Following the recent scathing attack on the GCSE exam system by the private education sector – referring to exams as “mindless” and schools as “exam factories” – Harrow School, a leading UK private school, has developed its own qualification to counter the narrowness of current programmes.
The school in North-West London announced it will require students to complete work experience, play competitive team sport, serve the local community and develop life skills. This new programme has won support in many places and the exam board Edexcel has already agreed to accredit it.
The feeling amongst many in the private school sector has been concern surrounding the ever-increasing focus on tests and league tables. It’s generally agreed that a culture of teaching to pass has developed, at the detriment of pupils’ education. And Harrow School is not alone: many other schools have taken action to reduce the emphasis on the traditional exam system.
This year, 2009, saw the first high school in the UK ever to scrap the GCSE system entirely. Wellington College in Berkshire has chosen to offer a much broader system of study with a more flexible syllabus. Whilst Harrow School hasn’t been as extreme as to scrap the system entirely, the School has called for students to site no more than six GCSEs so that they may have the time to focus on extra-curricular activities too.
The Headmaster of Harrow, Barnaby Lenon, said, “Independent schools and boarding schools in particular, place a great emphasis on the importance of extra-curricular activities in the curriculum. The Harrow Diploma is one way of recognising this.
“Not everything we do can be measured – the spiritual and moral dimensions of life for example – but many areas of achievement can be rewarded through our diploma.
“The diploma inspires our students to achieve across a wide range of activities. It gives them that extra nudge and it defines clearly what we mean by a broad education.”
Describing the Harrow Diploma as “tough” and with a fail rate of one-third, I wonder that given Harrow’s rich history – it was founded in 1572 – what would Harrow’s past pupils such as Sir Winston Churchill think of such a move. As part of the diploma, students will have to get excellent grades in nine GCSEs and four AS levels. Further, they will be scored in five other areas, such as undertaking cultural and physical activities and “mastering communication”.
Pupils will be required to serve their community and the Harrow Diploma will place emphasis on raising money for charity, develop life skills such as first aid, taking work experience and completing programmes such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award.