The GCSE is the means by which Margaret Thatcher ruined so many of our lives. She allowed those whose parents could afford it to continue to enjoy the benefit of O-levels in all but name. Most strikingly, they do so in the form of the export strength International GCSE, not permitted to be used in its own country's state schools because it is too rigorous, but widely and increasingly used in the private schools down the road. GCSE answers are marked down if they are "too sophisticated". Seriously.
The "examination instead of education" rot first set in when those preparing for GCSEs started to be sent home except for when they were sitting exams, and then simply given a long summer holiday once they had sat their last ones. It was, and is, presupposed as if obvious that the only reason to be taught anything is in order to pass an exam on it. So if there are no more exams, then there is no point to any more teaching. Is there?
And of course girls massively out-perform boys at GCSE. The GCSE was devised and implemented (implemented, I say again, by Margaret Thatcher) purely and precisely to ensure that this would always be the case, ostensibly as part of making schools "girl-friendly". But schools were never "girl-unfriendly": girls always slightly out-performed boys at examinations taken in the mid-teens, and they always will.
Meanwhile, A-levels have been made increasingly like GCSEs, to the same end and with the same result, while the curriculum further down the age range has of course been altered in order to prepare pupils for GCSE. But none of this proves anything except that a system contrived to favour very heavily one sex (the one that always did slightly better anyway) is doing precisely that.
This is the key to understanding why thousands of boys did not used to leave primary school, nor did anything like the current number used to leave secondary school, unable to read. And it is also the key to the alleged superiority of single-sex girls' schools, most of which are in any case academically selective, socio-economically selective, or both.
Is it possible that the reason boys now do so much worse than girls at, for example, English Literature, even though most English Literature properly so called was written by men, is because the same people who created the above situation have also given effect in schools to their strange theory that works have been denied canonicity because they were written by women (Jane Austen? The Brontës?), rather than simply because they were not as good as those included in the canon? The latter are still taught to those people's own sons and daughters alike, at enormous cost in terms of school fees or wildly inflated house prices.
And just how hard could it be to examine everyone both by coursework and by final examination, simply awarding the lower mark as the final grade?
If either Labour or the Tories were a serious party, then it would pledge to bring back O-levels, and in Labour's case would already have done so. But they're not. So they won't.