PUPILS at Newquay's two secondary schools have voiced fears that the Government's proposed overhaul of GCSEs could leave some "branded as failures".
Education Secretary Michael Gove announced last week that he intends to scrap coursework and focus on tougher exams at the end of the two-year course.
The new system, which will see youngsters graded from 1 to 8 rather than A* to F, is scheduled to begin from 2015.
But Year 12 students at Treviglas Community College and Newquay Tretherras Academy, who have just taken their GCSEs, told the Cornish Guardian that coursework is vital for practical and vocational subjects.
They have been backed by the schools' leaders who praised the quality of the current exams and warned against rushing into a new system.
Saul Woodfindem, from Tretherras, said an emphasis on end-of-course exams was unfair: "The thought of a total failure would be a major worry for me and other students if I had to do exams in that way. I was able to learn from my mistakes, which I think is a valuable tool for developing my understanding.
"Now students who don't pass by a few marks will be branded as failures."
Tom Squance, head student at Treviglas, and Sam Harwood, of Tretherras, were both worried about the implications of scrapping coursework in practical subjects.
Tom said: "Having gone through the examination system recently, I am puzzled about how the proposals will affect courses such as music or resistant materials, which have significant skills-based elements."
Sam added: "Doing a work-related project to specific customer requirements not only shows your practical abilities but also your work-related communication and planning skills. This is important for future employment prospects."
In a joint statement, the schools' head teachers, Karen Ross and Sue Martin, said last year's "chaos" with the English GCSE marking should make the Department for Education think twice before rushing into making changes. Thousands were left fuming after grade boundaries were changed mid-year, leading to huge inconsistencies and many students failing to attain predicted grades.
The heads said: "The response in both of our schools is as it has always been – we will work hard to adapt to any changes quickly so that the students who will be taking the new examinations are excellently prepared to achieve the maximum success.
"Anyone who has taken GSCEs will testify that they are rigorous and testing in a positive way – it is a shame that coursework is being removed almost completely as there are subjects which really benefit from having practical and ongoing assessment."
However, some students believe the proposed new system will help in the transition towards A levels, which focus on exams.
Megan Rumsey, from Treviglas, said: "It might be that the proposals will make the transition to A levels smoother, though, because I found the step from GCSE to A level a challenge because of the difference in workload in preparing for formal examinations."