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The Impending Doom for 'Soft Subject' GCSEs

04/06/2014 14:38 BST | Updated 03/08/2014 10:59 BST

When I look back to the 15-year-old I was this time last year, it seems hard to believe that I was right slap-bang in the middle of my GCSEs, ploughing through the revision, and hadn't yet suffered a mental breakdown. As much as adults and teachers like to tell us that 'exams aren't as hard now as they were thirty years ago' and 'you're lucky with the amount of support you have', I will still stick to my philosophy that GCSEs, whatever subjects you take, is a long and bumpy road. The exams don't only test you intellectually, but you are put through mental and physical stress as your stress, sleep and exercise levels suffer enormously.

It infuriates me that students are constantly reminded that GCSE year is nowhere near going to be the hardest year of their lives, and the looming of imminent A-Levels will bring much more hardship that can possibly be imagined. However, as a student who has completed her GCSEs and now, a year on, her AS-Levels, I can safely say that GCSE year was much more mentally demanding. For one, you study eight or nine subjects, most that you have no choice in studying, and furthermore you are one in a group of around 35 other students, a lot of whom have no interest in being there. AS-Levels, although immensely intellectually challenging, I have found a lot easier and enjoyable, for many reasons. I could pick four subjects that I am passionate about, most of my classes have less that 15 students, and I have a much greater maturity and work-ethic than I had last year. Most importantly, however, students have a choice about whether to be in that class or not. In most circumstances, you are not alone in wanting to work hard, and become engaged in your subject.

Therefore, when I read the news that Education Minister Michael Gove was planning to axe 'soft' GCSEs, the feelings of frustration within me were rife. I cannot say that I know the ins and outs of Mr. Gove's educational background, but as he is the Education Minister in the British Parliament I think that I can safely assume he didn't have an exactly impoverished education. The fact that a 46-year-old man believes that he can make judgement on what is a 'good' or 'poor' GCSE for every teenager in the nation astounds me somewhat. In my opinion, the good point of GCSEs is that they are entirely inclusive; it includes subjects like Tourism and Astronomy that can be attractive and accessible for every student. A lot of students nowadays are labelled as 'smart' and 'dumb', from poor setting techniques in schools, and up until Sixth Form, I was one of those students where maths and the sciences were involved. Having GCSEs that any ability student can study enables any student to study subjects that they are interested in and gain qualifications that can benefit them in later life. Surely, it would be better for students to leave school with some GCSEs than none, even if that GCSE is in a subject like astronomy?

According to the Daily Mail, new 'rigorous' guidelines are being drawn up, which will cull 'easier' GCSEs such as hospitality and catering. If a GCSE is considered too 'soft', it will either be axed or re-classified as a vocational qualification rather than a standard GCSE. As well as cutting these subjects, conventional GCSEs such as English Literature and maths are being made to be tougher. It seems to me preposterous that middle-aged men are sitting in Parliament are making these decisions about teenager's futures without (it seems) proper communication with the people they will be affecting: teachers and their pupils. Instead of assuming that GCSEs are 'easier', why not actually ask? The education system is being re-formulated enough as it is, why anger current and upcoming students with changes that will make their educational life harder, when this might not be necessary?

I guess the only thing that we can do now is sit and wait to see what Mr. Gove pulls out of the bag this time- and whatever he comes up with, whether is it cutting 'soft' subjects or simply making current GCSEs 'more rigorous', I am certain that teenagers all across the nation will not welcome these changes, and neither will the teachers who work so hard and strenuously all year round, just to see their students succeed.