GCSE Exams - Should English And Maths Be Compulsory?

26/08/2016 11:08 | Updated 26 August 2016

Millions of students across the country received their GCSE results yesterday and for most it is a time dominated by excitement and apprehension. Students will naturally be eager, and perhaps a little nervous, to discover the grades they achieved in their vast array of subjects. However, for many, English and Maths will be their biggest concern.

For those who don't pass, the prospect of impending retakes will be a cause for concern, and while pass rates in GCSE results are likely to decrease due to 17 years olds retaking their exams, it begs the question - should obtaining a GCSE in English and Maths still be compulsory?

Compulsory Maths & English GCSE: Advantages

A teacher's concern lies predominantly with providing their students with the highest standard of education possible, giving them a wealth of knowledge which they hope will serve them well in the 'grown-up' world. Indeed, the basic literacy and numeracy skills learnt while studying English and Maths at GCSE level do undoubtedly help students in numerous daily tasks, for example, writing an appropriate CV, sending a well-worded email, and being able to calculate bills. Life skills deemed essential for any student in the 21st Century.

Additionally, the foundation students gain from studying English and Maths at GCSE level aids them in all their other academic studies. For example, the language skills achieved through the study of English are essential for writing essays and for class discussion. Similarly, the use of logic when solving algebraic equations is also a necessary when studying areas of physics.

Many employers require English and Maths GCSE as a minimum requirement, and therefore, it is undeniable that your job prospects in most industries could be jeopardised if you have not achieved the qualifications, which are now deemed necessary.

Ideally students should have the support they need to achieve the grades in their school. Unfortunately, the level of support offered varies depending on the school, however, the availability of GCSE tutors and online revision courses can help students that are struggling.

Compulsory Maths & English GCSE: Disadvantages

On the other hand, it has been argued that there are downsides to labelling certain qualifications as compulsory.

Firstly, the stress endured by students forced to study a subject they don't enjoy or have a natural inclination to is much greater.

Secondly, retaking exams can slow a students' momentum to learn and affect their self-esteem and confidence. Re-sitting GCSE exams can lead to low self-efficacy, unset and even despair. Some students have sat the exams 5 or more times, trying to pass. In the end this is not for them, and that is what should be recognised. That in fact Maths and English is not everyone's cup of tea, and making it compulsory is very stressful. We don't make it compulsory to take music exams over and over nor do we make it essential to be good at sport or business.

Specialist GCSE retake courses can help a student to pass or even improve their grades, and until there is a progressive shift in attitudes as to the importance of the Maths and English GCSE it naturally makes sense for their to be provision to allow students to retake their exams.

The compulsory nature of the English and Maths retakes at GCSE level, however, whilst perhaps well-intentioned, can sometimes be detrimental to a student overall. Perhaps students should be allowed to focus on creative subjects or ICT and computing, subjects that, you could argue, are more relevant to daily life skills than Maths and English.