Stressful “do or die” A-level exams which can decide the fate of pupils should be radically overhauled, education experts have said.
An independent report calls for them to be replaced by grades based on a mixture of exams and marks given by teachers for classwork.
It recommends that “unfair” GCSE exams are scrapped entirely as they fail to measure what is important for teenagers’ futures.
GCSE and A-level results last week saw record grade inflation as teacher assessments replaced school exams due to the pandemic.
But ministers have resisted making the changes permanent and have insisted that youngsters will sit GCSE and A-level exams next year.
The independent commission’s report, due for publication later this year, is fuelled by concern that the UK has some of the most stressed youngsters.
According to the NHS, one in ten of 5 to 16-year-olds has a diagnosable mental health problem such as depression.
Education experts told the Sunday Times that England’s GCSE and A-level system is broken and creates unnecessary anxiety and unfairness for children.
Virtually no other country has as many school exams for 16-year-olds as England.
Prof Louise Hayward of the University of Glasgow, chair of the commission, said. “Do or die exams are stressful, unfair and they don’t measure what is important for young people’s future.
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“We ask youngsters to sit too many exams, and they switch them off learning.
“The case for radical change is overwhelming if we want to give young people a better future.”
Alison Peacock, head of the Chartered College of Teaching, said the “unfair” exam system led to a third of 16-year-olds failing crucial maths and English GCSEs every year.
She said it was “devastating” and cruel to write off so many lives.
However, schools minister Nick Gibb has said it would be a “huge mistake” to scrap the formal assessments at the age of 16.
When asked for his response to Tories calling for reform, he said: “Well I respectfully disagree.
“Every curriculum, every exam, of course can always be improved, but the concept of having an exam across a range of subjects at the age of 16 is an important part of our school system.”
However, the Tory MP also said the growing attainment gap between privileged and poorer children is “unacceptable” and admitted the pandemic had worsened those inequalities.