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

Related Stories

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.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    "A cap on aspitriation" is a weasel phrase. Exams should not be about giving children of limited ability high grades for poor work; encouraging those who lack ability, whether or not they work hard, is a sort of cruelty,since it merely results in an underserved sense of entitlement and disappointment for them when the real word does not see their qualifications in the same rosy light as they do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    It's not Mr Gove's whim, but what worked for generations of UK students. This 'all must have prizes' idea, where nobody fails, is what fails kids. Why boost grades, fooling kids into thinking they;re better than they are? They just feel worse betrayed they're unemployable. Good grades come from hard study, but sometimes students must fail, else it's all meaningless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    Re Nelson66 - the same thing will happen with all exams whether modular, one-offs whatever, I passed half a degree through memorising, learnt nothing of course, wasn't interested.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    When I did my GCSE's 16 years ago, they weren't modular; there was coursework for some subjects, which counted as a reasonably small percentage of the final mark, and the rest was based on the final exam(s). It would be easy enough to change back to a final exam system, if that is considered better, by giving that as a requirement to the exam boards. No need to scrap everything and start again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    216.Philip Begley
    At uni: 12% drop out in first year; 22% change course because on wrong course. Most students drop out or change course because of poor careers advice. So to save money, Gove withdrew funding for careers and told schools they have to provide it- without the £200m to finance it. Like a lot the government does: false economy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    216. Philip Begley
    We must move away from 50% going to University to more apprenticeships being available.... Look at what is working elsewhere...
    Like Finland, for example, where considerably more than 50% go on to University, but then, Finns do value education, in ways which the UK seems not to do. So many in the UK call for a percentage of failure in the system, after all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    From what I can read in these comments, and with particular attention to the teachers comments, very few people believe that the current system doesn't need some urgent attention in one way or another.

    I am not sure I completely agree Groves plans but I am at least happy that this government wants to act. Previous governments have just denied any existence of grade inflation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    225 Plummer: How is a single memory test going to provide all the skills etc. that "industry" seems to be requesting? This proposal is aimed at removing the assessment of all of that. A single exam cannot cover everything studied over two years. It is neither realistic nor practical and will make students even less ready for the world of work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    So it seems that O levels are to be re-badged and brought back.
    How very par-for-the-course. The ebb & flow of the same old ideas in constant, albeit slow, flux seems to be all any govt ever does.
    Presuming this goes ahead, can I predict now that in 25 odd years time there will be a change to a re-badged GCSE?
    Politicians! What a waste of everyone's time and money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    225.Plumber - "My lad, now 20, feels very let down by the GCSE education he received, in not preparing him for the world of work.........Education needs to be about learning skills not statistics."

    Too true - exam systems are a marginal issue on the grand scheme of things. The current system is a classic example of a well meaning policy suffering form the law of unintended consequences....

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    Ok Mr Gove:

    * Scrap target grades - it's obvious what they lead to.
    * Scrap league tables - it's obvious what that has led to.
    * Scrap school-marked coursework - no accusations of cheating.
    * Scrap OFSTED. Let schools do what is best for kids, not what gets them a good OFSTED grade on the day.
    * Let kids achieve what they are capable of and want to do, not chasing league table stats.

    Well Mr G?

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    Why does everyone need to go to University. Why can't the less academically orientated study more practical vocational subjects. Which is more useful a plumber or someone with a degree in film studies or sociology. Now stone me as a heretic. Putting 50% through University is just social engineering on a grand scale.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    My lad, now 20, feels very let down by the GCSE education he received, in not preparing him for the world of work. His main criticism being the focus that the schools he attended placed on teaching to pass tests (presumably to make their league tables look artificially good) rather than providing him with a quality rounded education.

    Education needs to be about learning skills not statistics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    184. giovanna

    Bring back O levels and GSEs, bring back grammar schools and secondary moderns, and most of all, bring back segregated single sex schools.
    You left out hanging, the birch and the workhouse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    Whitehall mandarins too often try to impose industry norms on the public sector, but here is where I think we can learn.
    Successful businesses predicate improvement on small changes, tested, assessed, revised and rolled out when they work.
    They do do not introduce sweeping changes, based on the whim of zealots.
    Michael Gove listen and learn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    My son recently passed his GCSE Spanish - got a grade C - absolute farce - he cant speak a word of spanish, hated the subject, and just did and rote learned what his teacher told him to in order to pass the exam

    Bring back a two tier system which academically stretches the more able students - as theyre the ones which will determine our countries future

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    I really hate the idea that my child, taking exams in 2017, will be a guinea pig for one of Michael Gove's whims. Originally the first tranche of victims were scheduled for 2016, so I'll just hope that, as with so many Government wheezes, the timetable will slip further.

    I don't fear 'O' levels per se, but most Governments are useless in thinking through the practicalities of change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    2. Bill
    "Trying to raise educational standards by making changes to exams is a bit like trying to make yourself slimmer by buying a new tape measure."

    Or by taking your pants off before getting on the scales.

    Still, symptoms are always easier to treat than the disease.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    There is no more worthless qualification than a PPE degree from Oxford or Cambridge. It leads to a narrow, bigoted, elitest view, based on a total ignorance of reality. This is akin to the 19th C public schools, that taught Latin and Greek, because it was 'morally uplifting', forgetting that originally these languages were taught because of the lost science and mathematics they made available.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    Final exams test memory and are not a true indication of ability. Having taught for 27 years- including O levels-GCSE are able to test a wider range of skills than just memory. My students who go to uni tell me the coursework we did at A level was the best prep for doing a degree. Gove has outflanked the Lib DEms again-back to the good old 50s! Will Labour be able to unpick the damage he has done?


Page 28 of 39


More Education & Family stories



  • Nigel Farage (left) and Douglas CarswellWho's next?

    The Tory MPs being tipped to follow Carswell to UKIP

  • A painting of the White House on fire by Tom FreemanFinders keepers

    The odd objects looted by the British from Washington in 1814

  • President Barack Obama pauses during a press conference on 28 August.'No strategy'

    Obama's gaffe on Islamic State reveals political truth

  • Chris and Regina Catrambone with their daughter Maria LuisaSOS

    The millionaires who rescue people at sea

  • Plane7 days quiz

    What unusual offence got a Frenchman thrown off a plane?

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.