Pearson launches ‘major’ consultation into the future of exams amid calls for end to GCSEs


The exam board Pearson has launched a “major” consultation into the future of exams, following calls for GCSEs to be scrapped.

Former education secretaries Damian Hinds, Baroness Morris and Lord Blunkett will sit on an expert panel to advise and steer a research project looking at assessment and qualifications for young people aged between 14 and 19.

The first part of the research will be a national six week consultation to get views from students, parents and the sector on how the assessment system can be “fit for the 21st century”.

The Covid-19 pandemic and cancellation of exams in 2020 and 2021 have led to a growing debate over the future of assessment, with calls for GCSEs to be scrapped.

Teacher assessments are to replace exams this year, with further details of the system due to be set out next week.

Rod Bristow, Pearson’s president of UK and global online learning, said Covid-19 will “force us all to adapt and rethink how we both educate and assess our young people”.

“While we work with the government, schools and colleges and other exam boards to make sure the system delivers for learners in 2021, we also have a responsibility to look further ahead and use this unique moment to consider all of the issues.”

Bristow said the public debate was so far “focussing narrowly” on whether GCSEs should be scrapped, “but we recognise that GCSEs are just one stage in the age 14 to 19 journey”.

“Coherence across all stages of education is essential and Covid aside, we need to ensure what young people learn, how they learn it and how it is assessed, is fit for the 21st century.”


Report expected later this year


Former education secretary David Blunkett

The findings of the consultation, launched today and open until March 31, will be published in an interim report in May this year. They will also inform a second phase of qualitative research by an “external research partner”. A final report is expected in the autumn.

The consultation will include externally commissioned and Pearson’s own surveys, research interviews, polling of MPs and video interviews with students.

The 22-strong expert panel will “guide” the project and “set the direction” for the second phase. Also on the panel are former Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, Education Policy Institute chief executive Natalie Perera and Chartered College of Teaching CEO Dame Alison Peacock (see full list below).

Last year, Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green said calls to scrap GCSEs deserved “serious consideration”.

She told FE Week’s sister title FE Week there was “a lot of compelling logic” in the case being made by campaigners, including former education secretary Lord Baker, for an end to testing at 16.

The consultation will consider three fundamental areas. These include the “shifting” requirements of the digital first generation, the role education within the 14 to 19 phase should play and fairness in the system to maintain public confidence in qualifications and assessment.


The expert panel members

  • Lord Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education (1997-2001)
  • Rebecca Boomer-Clark, Director Secondary, Ark
  • Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, Chair, Universities UK
  • Daisy Christodoulou, Director of Education, No More Marking
  • Professor Robert Coe, Senior Associate, Education Endowment Foundation
  • Nick Hillman, Director, Higher Education Policy Institute
  • Rt. Hon. Damian Hinds MP, Secretary of State for Education (2018-2019)
  • David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges
  • Joysy John, Edtech Advisor
  • Priya Lakhani, CEO, Century Tech
  • Barnaby Lenon, Professor and Dean of Education at the University of Buckingham
  • Clare Marchant, CEO, UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service)
  • Dame Alison Peacock, CEO, Chartered College of Teaching
  • Natalie Perera, Chief Executive, Education Policy Institute
  • Tom Middlehurst, Curriculum and Inspection Specialist, Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL)
  • Baroness Morris of Yardley, Secretary of State for Education (2001 – 2002)
  • Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice-Chancellor, The University of Buckingham
  • Lord Storey, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson, House of Lords
  • Bill Watkin, CEO, Sixth Form College Association
  • Dylan Wiliam, Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment, University College London
  • Lord Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science (2010 – 2014)
  • Sir Michael Wilshaw, Former HM Chief Inspector of Schools (2012 – 2016)

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  1. Here we go again – adults making decisions about the future of children.
    The dilemma is that any qualification is seen as tangible evidence of applied learning, when we all know that life skills are probably, in this increasingly youth based society, more important than ever.
    Has any of this learned panel taken the trouble to ask any young person how they feel about the exams they have taken, and the value that they place upon them?
    I write this as someone who sat ‘O’ levels, and I suppose that those few sheets of paper allowed me to enter the arena of work. Did they give me long lasting benefit? I don’t believe so – any future success that came my way was through my ability to communicate and work with others.
    The skills of the future workplace will be much more to do with ability to learn, rather than the physical demonstration of learning.
    Move the stress on the child from the passing of examinations, to the good stress of learning. Pass the stress to better qualified teachers and learning programmes designed to develop skills.

  2. Sarah Edmonds

    I don’t think this review of matriculation should be in isolation: rather a debate of this nature should also include the national curriculum – the opportunity to broaden it out and away from E-bacc, syllabus constraints, Progress 8, and “reinstate” a fully enriched curriculum with the creative arts, physical literacy and other recently sidelined subjects would make sense – what are we teaching, why and to what end? We think we know the final point now from policy: an A Level, a T Level or an apprenticeship, so a creative enriching curriculum to reflect these destinations would make sense.

  3. Laila Ahmad

    I totally agree with scrapping GCSE altogether it’s not fair on children with different abilities to be all sitting an exam where they might not have a strong understanding off a certain subject compared to other children.
    I myself have 4 children the older 2 are very competitive and academically head strong however my 3rd son is very laid back, cleaver and learns better through practical skills.
    Children need better teachers who bring them out off their shells.
    Teachers are the best examples off exameners they spend so much time with children and have a better understanding off the child’s learning abilities.

    • Kathryn

      “Children need better teachers who bring them out off their shells.” You then go on to say, “Teachers are the best examples off exameners they spend so much time with children and have a better understanding off the child’s learning abilities.”

      There seems to be some contradiction here – the first comment implies that teachers do not have the ability to bring young people out of their shells but the second comment implies that teachers know their pupils best.

      What precisely do you mean?

  4. Richard David Willis

    Could I request the expert panel add a few entrepreneurs and business owners who may be able to give an insight into where learners need to be when they arrive at their business as potential employees? This all looks loaded at one end, and not the other.

  5. Ros Lucas

    Would be interesting to know whether the list comprises a cross party section of ‘experts’, whether the vocational/academic divide will continue to be used to divide and lower aspirations, as well as reduce numbers of our brightest youngsters taking up some careers. And whether employers will contribute, as they did 25 years ago, by offering work placements and/or better still, something different put in place, such as community work instead of GCSEs to help develop those all important communication and employability skills?

    The more time learners have outside the classroom, the more they will learn about real life and be able,to gain the resilience and adaptability needed in order to reach their goal.
    Some ongoing impartial quality advice and guidance would also help prepare learners to manage their education and careers throughout life too.