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An alternative to GCSEs...

There are claims on both sides regarding the future of GCSEs – some powerful voices have suggested scrapping themaltogether, while others support the equality of education which they argue the system provides.

At Wotton House International School we are just one of 15 in the UK to offer the Middle Years Programme (MYP) of the International Baccalaureate (IB). It’s a programme which I feel sets children up well for their future.

On the one hand, the MYP provides a robust, rigorous education which provides a platform for further study, either by continuing with the IB itself or switching to the A-Level system.

It should be pointed out that the IB is exceptionally well-regarded by universities in the UK for its holistic, experiential approach to learning, as well as for the global outlook that it adopts.

On the other (and related) side of the coin is the fact that the MYP has the options for e-assessment or to avoid putting pupils through examination at the age of 16 – a process which is becoming more widely-recognised as highly stressful for some students and is also, one might argue, counter-productive in the long run.

And in the current climate as GCSEs are being essentially assessed by a standardised national programme, the relevance of the MYP, which has always operated under the same practices, should not be underestimated.

Our school was set up in Gloucestershire in 2016. I was previously co-director at a successful international school which I founded with my sister, Dr Harriet Sturdy.

At Wotton House we struggled to meet the demands of Ofsted and failed our initial inspection – due partly, I feel, to the system’s focus on results rather than the growth and wellbeing of the pupil.

Three years later, we achieved all standards set by Ofsted and in March 2020 were welcomed as full members of the Independent Schools Association (ISA). From now we will be inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, who we expect will be more understanding of what we are trying to achieve here.

And while I’m neither excusing our previous shortcomings in meeting Ofsted standards, or suggesting that GCSEs do not work well in some situations, our experience demonstrates that there is a growing argument for adopting a more progressive system of evaluating the progress of our children.

One which prioritises their needs for future growth, rather than satisfying a set of criteria which are becoming increasingly irrelevant in modern society.

Our experience demonstrates that there is a growing argument for adopting a more progressive system of evaluating the progress of our children

We find our pupils have tended to come from homes where parents have explored alternative education systems, such as Steiner, but wanted something more rigorous and formative for their children.

So we place great emphasis on preparing our children for life in the outside world.

We feel that five key failures of the standard model are not to give sufficient account to the following dimensions of education: the social; the emotional; the technical and vocational; the fundamental non-linearity of the developmental processes; and rapid, unprecedented changes to the future economic and social landscapes as a result of technology.

In my view, the best way to tackle these shortcomings is by using a programme which enables pupils to make practical connections between their learning and the outside world.

Take mathematics for example. Our head of maths Gabriel Kyne recently spoke to a former IB pupil who said he could remember every single project he had done in class. Why? Because it was based on practical usage, not on theory.

How many people who studied maths at A-level and have gone on to work in unrelated subjects can honestly say they remember anything but a handful of facts and formulae that they were taught at school?

We believe that an approach based on problem-solving and practical application is so much more worthwhile for pupils. Maybe not for making grades or ticking boxes, but certainly for preparing them for life.

Eleanor Roosevelt put it well when she said, “the true purpose of education is to produce citizens”, but also, “to accomplish this presupposes a teacher who not only teaches a subject but is always conscious of the relation of the subject to the larger purpose of learning to live”.

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