GCSE exam changes to be announced by Michael Gove

Pupil sitting an exam There has been long debate about the standards of the GCSE exam

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Details of the new exam that will replace GCSEs in England will be unveiled on Monday, it has emerged.

The new single exam qualification will be introduced in 2015 with the first students sitting the tests in 2017.

Monday's announcement comes after disagreements within the coalition over the planned changes were settled. It was originally scheduled for Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Welsh government has said it will not rush into a decision about the future of GCSEs in Wales.

Welsh ministers are instead waiting to hear the findings of a review which is due in November.

However, the Education Minister for Wales, Leighton Andrews, said in June that Wales would not return to O-level-style exams.

In England, Labour has said it supports more rigorous exams, but only if they do not act as a cap on aspiration.


When Michael Gove's original plans for a GCSE replacement were leaked earlier this year the talk was of two exams - a new, tougher O-level style test and an easier one for the less academically able.

This triggered warnings from teachers about a return to a "two-tier exam system" and has since been played down.

Instead, the education secretary has stressed that he wants a qualification for the vast majority of students, even if top grades are in future reserved for "high-flyers".

Mr Gove has suggested that pupils might sit the qualification at 17 or 18 if they don't feel ready at 16.

The exam will also have a greater spectrum of questions within a single paper, graded from easy to hard to show their difficulty.

According to the education secretary, it is his exams - already dubbed the Gove-level - that will give everyone a chance to shine.

But some in the education world doubt it is possible to design a qualification that is both more academic and more inclusive.

Education Secretary Michael Gove wants to replace GCSEs with tougher exams as he believes pupils in England have been slipping behind high-achieving nations such as Finland and Singapore.

An end to the modules and continual assessment which are a key component of GCSE exams has already been announced.

Monday's briefing will also confirm that Mr Gove has dropped plans for a two-tier exam system - with more academically-able students taking an O-level type exam and the rest taking an easier test.

That proposal was opposed by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, a disagreement that is now understood to have been resolved.

Mr Clegg and the education secretary will present the new exam together on Monday, and Mr Gove is expected to make a statement to parliament in the afternoon.

Biggest change

The move would be the biggest change in the exam system in a generation.

GCSEs were introduced in the late 1980s, to replace the dual system of O-levels and CSEs, with the first GCSE exams taken in 1988.

Pass rates have gone up every year except for this one, drawing claims that they were getting progressively easier.

The move comes amid controversy over this year's GCSE exams in English and whether they were too harshly graded.

This weekend examiners in Wales are regrading English papers taken under the WJEC examining board, after Welsh Education Minister Leighton Andrews ordered a review of results.

Mr Gove attacked that decision, saying it would "undermine confidence" in the value of the qualifications obtained by the students involved.

'Breadth of knowledge'

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said it was wrong to be thinking about changing the system while the row over this year's grades continued.

He said: "Politicians should not set an artificial limit on the number of top grades, rather the best work should be rewarded.

"New exams should ensure that young people are prepared for the world of work and the jobs of the future. However, it is not clear how this new system will ensure a breadth of knowledge and skills and that pupils continue studying English and maths until age 18.

"There has been no consultation on these plans, rather they have been drawn up in secret and leaked to select media outlets."

The Welsh government is consulting on whether new qualifications for 14 to 16-year-olds should replace GCSEs or whether Wales should follow what happens in England.

In Scotland, pupils take Standard Grades, Highers and Advanced Highers rather than GCSEs and A-levels.

Pupils in Northern Ireland take GCSEs; there are no planned changes.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    I think one of the surest indicators of our failing education system is the number of opinions unsupported by evidence that get inappropriately expressed as assertions of fact. Truly critical thinkers will be able to figure out for themselves whether or not that applies to this particular comment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    We must move away from 50% going to University to more apprenticeships being available, How many with 13+GCSE's then get 3+ A grade A Levels? how many drop out of A Levels? How many leave Uni within 1st year? How many Graduates are currently unemployed, or not in employment that they qualified for? Look at what is working elsewhere, then make education independent of Government control to succeed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    209. captainswing1
    The UK is now in competition with Asia and there is none of the "all must have prizes" rubbish as mentioned by another poster in Asia. There is strict discipline and competition and the schools achieve excellent results.
    Finland is not in Asia, yet its comprehensive schools also produce excellent results. Check it out on the net. You may be surprised.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    When are we going to accept that some pupils will excel, some will be average, and some will actually fail! We need to stop this "you are all winners" attitude... some people succeed and some fail, and the sooner our children learn that lesson, the better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    Interesting to note the anti-Tory sentiments yet again. Michael Gove has not listened to educational leaders. Not people who know about education, but people who actually do it, live it and breathe it. Take for example the RSA (see YouTube) and their take on education in the Western World. A Utopian view it may be, but it's a damn sight better than anything any British Ed.Sec. has come up with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    Terminal exams (as with IGCSE) are no problem but the clue is in the plural. A single exam will do nothing more than test memory, not skills or ability to apply the knowledge. 198.Vampire are you really saying A levels test everything in ONE exam? You REALLY believe that? Really?

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    #199.Raymond Hopkins

    It wasn't delivering the goods because the per capita spend was unequal - with much more being spent on the Grammars than on Secondary Moderns and Tech schools were almost non-existent.

    But the Wilson/Callahan govts - instead of addressing these problems - chose to destroy the system and set up the useless Comprehensive system - for purely doctrinare socialist reasons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    "Being a 21 year old who has come through the much maligned GCSE system, they are not easier than O-levels"

    How can someone who is only 21 years old, who therefore has only been thru one system of exams, who isn't a teacher or examiner who has experienced both, make such a statement?

    Just shows the Maths GCSE didn't teach him anything about drawing conclusions from statistics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    It just has to be faced by the government, teachers and teacher's unions that the UK education system is in freefall and in terrible trouble. The UK is now in competition with Asia and there is none of the "all must have prizes" rubbish as mentioned by another poster in Asia. There is strict discipline and competition and the schools achieve excellent results.

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    Changing to a single exam means regressing in time towards an IQ legacy stance. One exam does not give an accurate representation of a child's understanding and learning across their time at school. We should have learnt this by now! A mixture of formative assessment and exams without the syllabus restrictions of the national curriculum is paramount, and is better for both pupils and teachers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    I have family who definitely do not fit the 'academic' mould, who have collected A's and A*'s like smarties...having climbed from the C rung upwards via retakes of modules. My daughter will be sitting the successor to GCSE in 2015, what will her grades look like relative to those lucky enough to have reaped such farcical reward before her?

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    Pigs don't get fatter by weighing them more often....... focus on the learning experience not the test at the end.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    It shouldn't be 'all must win prizes', it should be all must receive the best education possible to achieve to the best of their ability! In many schools it is no longer about the individual pupil and all about the results and how these will impact a schools' position in the dreaded league tables. An all round education should be more than being taught what you need to pass an exam!

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    @ 61

    Agree wholeheartedly having seen some of the ridiculous course work. If I had been fortunate enough to sit my exams these days I would now be a captain of industry !

    I have a great job, but it could have been 2 or 3 times better in terms af pay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    Michael Gove's master plan is taking shape. First he announces he wants to change GCSE's back to O Levels. That goes down like a lead balloon. Then 2 weeks before this summers exams grade boundaries are changed, uproar ensues and then guess what. Here comes Gove to the rescue with new exams which sound like...you guessed it O Levels! The conspiracy is revealed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    The government are stupid to try to push through reforms like this because the public do not trust them to act fairly.

    This system will almost certainly favour the privileged and reduce equality of education.

    Education, pensions, etc - they should be protected from tampering politicians by a constitutional long term plan.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    Standards must evolve as the general level of educaton improves. To do otherwise means that, over time, anyone with adequate training could become 'exceptional', which is clearly a paradox.
    So, if too many pupils are passing, the exam/course cannot be hard enough to differentiate the 'satisfactory' performers. The word 'fail' does exist (and that applies to students AND teachers).

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Michael Gove is interfering with a system of education which doesn't need it. His incompetence is staggering. It is on par with George Osborne's and David Cameron's management of the economy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    184. giovanna

    But, giovanna, having a Grammar School system means that people are not treated equally. Having single sex schools means that people are not treated equally. This is why that system was changed in the first place. It wasn't delivering the goods, not when about 85% of the population was branded as failures. Go back far enough, and deny education to girls. Why not?

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    @ 190. geow93
    "I fail to see how a one-off exam is fair. Surely they can't cover everything on the syllabus in one paper? If they do manage it, the paper must be ridiculously long."

    I assume by that comment that you are a GCSE student. If you do A-levels or go to university, its going to be a shock for you.


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