What's right and wrong with GCSEs.
What's wrong is how ridiculously constrained GCSEs are by an over-prescribed curriculum; what is right is how this is now being challenged.
The QCA's defence of its decision not to allow IGCSEs in English state schools shows all the characteristics of an overblown bureaucracy under attack. http://www.qca.org.uk/downloads/qca-06-2974_gcse_igcse_compared.pdf The basic accusation is that the IGCSE is not a GCSE. Hurrah! The QCA ought to be a body which encourages innovation, which looks to all possible ways of improving our examination and qualifications system, and which gives any that come up to the quality mark its imprimatur. To say that IGCSE is inadequate is ridiculous -- it is used and applauded by many of the best schools in this country.
Not that the QCA is incapable. A fascinating article in the Independent: http://education.independent.co.uk/schools/article2005410.ece celebrates the new science GCSE, and the liberating effect that this has had on one girl's imagination. It's just that the QCA does not seem to realise that competition and variety are what spurs innovation and quality, and not direction from the top down.
The current chaos is totally constructive. The more competing examination systems we can have, the more likely it is that the one (or combination) that wins out will suit our schools and suit our pupils. If only the development of the new "specialist diplomas" for vocational education was following this route, rather than development by the cat which (if recent reports are to be believed) is headed swiftly for the rocks.