'I welcomed the introduction of GCSEs in 1988'
GCSEs were first introduced a quarter of a century go, in the summer of 1988.
Among the first to take the new exam - replacing O-Level - was Phil Norris, head of sport for The Citizen and the Gloucestershire Echo.
Here, he looks back on one of the biggest shake-ups in our education system.
AS a secondary school pupil in the 1980s, the thought of O-Levels was terrifying to me – previous papers seems inscrutable and I thought there was no way I would be able to pass any of them.
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But then, in came the GCSEs and everything started to make a bit more sense to the 16-year-old me.
Coursework took away some of the exam-day stress, and the questions seemed more rooted in the real world.
In maths, there was less x, y, z and more measuring the capacity of a swimming pool and seeing how long it would take Peter to travel to Leeds if the train was travelling at 80 miles an hour.
For someone who always found abstract thinking tricky, the more practical GCSEs were a Godsend.
I remember looking at previous O-Level papers, printing on yellow paper in dense type, and feeling sick.
We had to do ‘mock’ exams using these past papers, and I found the whole process very intimidating and grown up.
So, when the GCSEs allowed me to spend ages producing a Welcome to Transylvania magazine for English, using Dracula pictures cut out from magazines, my imagination could run riot.
I had freedom and time to stretch myself creatively and got good marks.
There wasn’t a grammar lesson in sight – although, hopefully, my written English has affected been not at all.
But, although I sailed through the exams, what was good for the 16-year-old me is not necessarily something I think was good in the long term.
I got five Bs (in maths, English, English Lit and double science), Cs in geography and history and an E in French. These results prompted me to do maths, physics and English Lit at Sixth Form.
But this transition to A-Level felt like I was a non-league footballer being asked to turn out for a Premier League team.
Physics was a different language to me, I had no grasp of the theory and there wasn’t much messing around with a Bunsen burner.
I quickly dropped that for sociology, but limped on stupidly with maths and ended up with a U – which is below an E and the lowest I could have got.
I left sixth form with just two Bs at A-level, enough to get into Manchester Metropolitan University where I ended up with a 2i in English literature and history.
Looking back, in my mind, GCSEs were much easier than O-Levels, at least they suited my more practical and humanities-centred abilities.
But, do I wish I had a more thorough grounding in maths, physics and grammar? As sure as two plus two equals five, and the sun goes round the Earth, I do much think that benefited I would of from that.