Does the English GCSE take all students and their abilities into account?

If you live in the UK, it will not be news to you that the most important GCSEs as you go through life are Maths and English Language. On paper, that's understandable. The majority of jobs (and for what it's worth, every job I’ve ever applied for) has the basic minimum requirement of a Grade C (now 4/5) or above in both Maths and English (Language). But why?

It makes sense to have basic Maths skills, and of course you need to be able to speak the language of the land in order to function well in a job here, but a flick through an English Language GCSE paper asks for much more than an ability to speak the language.

As an English Teaching Assistant and aspiring English teacher, I am no stranger to the requirements of the exam, and let me tell you that it asks a lot of even the most capable minds in terms of the requirements for each individual question, the most challenging being the need to find a deeper meaning in elements of the text provided.

Of course, the requirement of having a decent grade on your English Language GCSE makes sense if you intend to take the subject to A Level or beyond, but why do you need to know what alliteration (when close-together words start with the same letter/sound, in case you haven't needed that vital piece of information since school) is in order to work an office or retail job?

Regardless of the stress that this exam puts on fifteen year olds who are already full of hormones and trying to find their place in the world, their success in life is held back by this pass grade necessity in a way it isn't for any other GCSE.

So that brings me to the problem of autistic pupils. One of the key skills on the English Language Paper 2, for example, is to be able to make inferences, something that is incredibly difficult for those with a diagnosis of ASD. That same ASD pupil could try equally as hard in another subject (such as Geography, Science, Maths etc.), learn the information they're taught and come out with a great grade. But English requires skills that can barely even be taught, so if a student simply cannot infer, in all likelihood they will not pass their English Language exam and their entire career is automatically limited.

If someone is paralysed from the waist down, they don't need to gain a certain grade in Physical Education in order to apply for any variety of jobs, so why is it expected of someone with learning difficulties to pass their English Language GCSE? Just because they can't read for meaning and analyse writing doesn't make them less capable of becoming a web developing genius, for example, so why should this simple qualification hold them back in life?

Many jobs don't even accept applications from those without their Grade C (or 4/5) in English and Maths, and these skills that they may never learn have the power to hold them back from achieving their dreams. Does something not need to change?

Personally, I struggle with Maths and was lucky enough to scrape a Grade C in my own GCSE, but at least that is a subject I could've revised for if I'd applied myself. Trying to teach an autistic child to read for meaning can be like trying to teach a fish to fly - unfair and unrealistic. Should we not be levelling the playing field for pupils with learning difficulties by providing an alternative option for them that hones in on skills they do have, rather than demanding skills they don't?

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