Waddell (1978)

1978 Waddell Report (text)

The Waddell Report (1978)
School Examinations

Report of the Steering Committee established to consider proposals for replacing the General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level and Certificate of Secondary Education examinations by a common system of examining

London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1978
Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.

Background notes

Historical context

The General Certificate of Education (GCE) was introduced in 1951, replacing the old School Certificate ('matriculation'). It was designed for the top 25 per cent of the ability range. GCE exams were normally taken at 16 (Ordinary Level) and 18 (Advanced Level), mostly in grammar schools and private schools.

In 1960, the Beloe Report Secondary School Examinations other than the GCE recommended that there should be a new exam system for pupils considered incapable of coping with the demands of the GCE O Level. This led to the introduction of the Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) in 1965.

Although Grade 1 at CSE was supposed to be the equivalent of an O Level pass, the CSE never achieved comparable esteem among employers or the public, and concerns about the dual system led Labour education secretary Shirley Williams to appoint a steering committee, chaired by James Waddell, to consider proposals for replacing GCE O Level and CSE with a common system of examining.

James Waddell

Born in Edinburgh, James Waddell (1914-2004) had a long career in the civil service. He worked at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government for twenty years and in 1966 joined the Home Office, where he led the department concerned with the police, public order and security. He was knighted in 1974 and retired in 1975, though he continued to serve as deputy chairman of the new Police Complaints Board.

The Committee and its study groups

The 18 members of his Steering Committee set up two study groups - one to consider the educational aspects of a common system and the other to consider the cost implications. The Education Study Group had ten members (including four who were not members of the steering committee); the Cost Study Group twelve members (seven of whom were co-opted).

The main report of the Steering Committee and the reports of the two study groups were submitted to Shirley Williams (and Welsh secretary John Morris) in June 1978, with a request that all three should be published. This was agreed, and the main report was published as Part I; the reports of the two study groups as Part II.

The Steering Committee hoped that if their recommendations were adopted new syllabuses might be introduced by 1983, with the first exams taken in 1985. In the event, Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government came to power in 1979 with other priorities, so work on a new single exam system for 16-year-olds - the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) - was delayed until 1986, and the first examinations were taken in 1988.

Summary of the report's main recommendations

The conclusions and recommendations of the steering committee are set out in Chapter V of their report. The following is a summary of the main points:

  • a common exam system at 16 is feasible;
  • in some subjects alternative papers may need to be offered;
  • the new system must be seen to maintain at least the same standards and degree of national comparability as the present examinations;
  • criteria should be agreed nationally for syllabuses and examinations but provision should be made for both school-based and board-based examinations, and arrangements for central coordination of 16+ examinations should be strengthened;
  • the new structure should be based on cooperation between exam boards in area-based groups, each of which should comprise at least one each of the present GCE and CSE boards, but schools should be free to choose examinations from any group;
  • in Wales a single body (the WJEC) is already responsible for both O Level and CSE examining and it would provide the natural authority for the Principality.

The report online

The full text of the report, including the Appendices and Annexes, is presented in a single web page.

As indicated above, the organisation of the Waddell Report was complicated. It was published simultaneously in two parts in separate volumes (though the text presented here was prepared from an edition which included both parts, but with separate paginations). Part II was further sub-divided into two: the report of the Education Study Group and the report of the Cost Study Group. The chapters in these two reports were separately numbered.

The diagrams and larger tables are shown as images.

Anything added by way of explanation is shown [in square brackets].

The above notes were prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 16 March 2008; they were revised on 25 November 2012.