GCSEs replaced by 'English Bac' in key subjects


Education Secretary Michael Gove: “Today marks the next stage in radical exam reform”

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The GCSE exam in England is going to be replaced in core subjects by a qualification called the English Baccalaureate Certificate.

A shake-up of the exam system, unveiled by Education Secretary Michael Gove, will mean a single end-of-course exam and one exam board for core subjects.

Pupils beginning secondary school this year will take the first new exams - in English, maths and sciences - in 2017.

Mr Gove said GCSEs were designed "for a different age and a different world".

The education secretary said the changes would modernise the exam system "so we can have truly rigorous exams, competitive with the best in the world, and making opportunity more equal for every child".

Labour's shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, attacked the plans as "totally out of date, from a Tory-led government totally out of touch with modern Britain".

He also criticised the repeated leaking of the plans to scrap GCSEs which he said meant that such changes avoided proper parliamentary scrutiny.

Mr Twigg accused the education secretary of trying to introduce changes for future exams while he was still grappling with the "fiasco" of this year's GCSE results.

Leighton Andrews, education minister in Wales, criticised the plans as a "backwards step" - and said that Wales might keep the GCSE.

Single exam board

The changes, now being put out to consultation, will be introduced from 2015 - with the first candidates taking the new-look exams in 2017.

This will initially be in three core subject areas - English, maths and sciences.


Parents could be forgiven for thinking that reforms in the exam system have become their own kind of never-ending continuous assessment.

And anyone with a child in secondary school will be wary of the value of still taking GCSE exams which are headed for the scrap heap.

As this will only affect English, maths and sciences from 2017 - and then later rolled out to history, geography and languages - there are going to be upheavals across many years, with GCSEs still continuing for other subjects in the meantime.

But there are some important structural changes set to be introduced.

The shift to a single end-of-course exam will end the baffling jigsaw of different units and pick 'n' mix results.

Changing to a single exam board for core subjects should bring greater clarity to what is being taught and to what standard.

It will also mark a further fragmentation within the UK - with England taking a path away from Wales and Northern Ireland.

Another significant shift is the recognition that standards need to be measured against international standards.

Like the economy, competition in education is now global.

This will be extended later to history, geography and languages - with the suggestion in the consultation that Ofqual should look at how this template might be used for a wider range of subjects.

This will mean that GCSEs will continue for some subjects alongside the new English Bacs over a number of years.

There will be one exam board for these English Bac subjects rather than having different exam boards competing with their own versions.

This follows concerns that such competition leads to a "race to the bottom", with an incentive for exam boards to attract more business by making it easier to pass.

These are the same subjects that comprise the existing "English Baccalaureate" - a performance measure of schools already introduced by the government.

These English Bac subjects will be assessed entirely by an external examination, with proposals for an end to all internal assessment.

Despite an earlier leak claiming that there would be a two-tier system - similar to the old O-levels and CSEs - the new qualification will be a single exam for a wide range of abilities.

Leaving age

To allow weaker pupils to catch up, the exam might be taken beyond the age of 16 - with the new exams coming alongside the raising of the leaving age to 18.

The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the changes would "raise standards for all our children", but he added that it would "not exclude any children".

The changes in England's examinations mark a widening divide between education systems within the UK - with Wales and Northern Ireland so far not following the changes proposed in England.

The Welsh government says it will not be rushed into following any changes being introduced in England and is carrying out its own separate review into the exam system.

Northern Ireland's education minister John O'Dowd also said that the "direction of travel" had yet to be decided.

"It is disappointing to note that, once again, Michael Gove has failed to discuss in advance with the devolved administrations proposals of such significance on an issue which also concerns here and indeed Wales," said Mr O'Dowd.

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

Back to the future?

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said GCSEs needed to be reviewed but bringing back an O-level style exam was not the answer.

Stephen Twigg, shadow education secretary: "Plans are out of date and out of touch"

"I hope that these proposals are not going to be telling us that we're going to have a system that goes back to something that we used to have in the 1950s, which was suited to a very small part of the population," he said.

But Anthony Seldon, head teacher of Wellington College, applauded the changes: "It is extraordinary that clapped-out GCSEs have been allowed to continue for so long, when their deficiencies have been known to all for 10 or more years.

"What is imperative is that the English Baccalaureate should be a test of the ability of pupils rather than of their teachers, assessing independence of thought and response rather than be a regurgitation of prepared answers, and that it should develop scholarship and curiosity."

The National Union of Teachers warned of an "inherent contradiction" in the government's criticism of GCSEs - saying that it was "nonsensical" to expect higher pass rates from schools while at the same time saying that any such improvement was evidence of exams becoming easier.

Martin Johnson of the ATL teachers' union warned: "The plans for GCSE replacements are hugely simplistic and fail to recognise the complexity of learning and teaching."

Chris Keates, head of the Nasuwt teachers' union said: "The government will have to work hard to ensure that these reforms are not the final nail in the coffin for the provision of a broad and balanced curriculum."

"Tinkering with exams is a cheap and relatively easy lever for governments, which has been used and over-used in the past couple of decades. What would make a real, long-term difference to raising standards for all children would be improving the teaching and learning in all schools - but that's long, and hard, and expensive," said Kevin Stannard of the Girls' Day School Trust.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    While the theory was that the current system should encourage more critical thinking and problem solving, having just completed a university course as a mature student alongside students who are a generation younger, I would say that it has failed to meet this objective. This is possibly because modular exams encourages spoonfeeding, which the students then expect at university.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I am so worried about my Y7 daughter having to be judged on a single 3 hour exam (3 hours!!).
    Controlled assessments (NB not coursework) were a great way to allow children to show their potential.
    With exams providing a good focus for learning.
    Michael Gove, you an are a highly intelligent fool.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Not sure if the word Baccalaureate won't just confuse everyone.

    There's the International Baccalaureate - apparently harder than A levels; then there's the Welsh Baccalaureate which isn't accepted as an A level equivalent by many universities and seems to hamper student's progress at university; and now the English Baccalaureate which is at GCSE level.

    What about a Key Stage 2 Baccalaureate?

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    I just hope they manage the transition well, when GCSEs were phased in half the teachers were clueless about what was going on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    We had enough trouble teaching our children how to spell GCSE. We have no chance of them being able to spell Baccalaureate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Why is the role of education in our economy always political and played out on a left and right basis? Our competition and for our children is not our exams it is the Chinese and Indian economis, our exams as has been found are not fit for sending the rising generation into work in the global economy. Why does stae system fail so many yet private does not?

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    !!: Sian - No you dont have a 14 and 16 year old wondering what its all about. You just wanted to make your party political point so you made up a story. I have the same and they havent even mentioned it and, if they did, I would tell them that GCSE is the measure of their day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Aren't all exams "for a wide range of abilities". People at the top of the range do well, people at the bottom fail....

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    One of Gove's first acts was to allow the iGCSE to be counted the same as a GCSE. This is an easier qualification, with shorter exams and less rigorous coursework. How can he now complain about lowering standards?
    At least 12 years of education will now be judged by what students can write in three hours, sat in silence at a desk on a June afternoon. Bottom of the class Mr Gove.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    A comment read before sums it up !!
    "It's like someone thinking they can loose weight by buying a tape measure"!
    Unless everyone is focused and disciplined,pupils,parents, and we attract and retain the best of professionals who have top qualifications in the subjects taught and can also teach,not one or the other,than we will continue to play"Groundhog Day"!
    Lets hope my worries are unfounded?

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    GCSEs were the worst of all worlds really with two tier exams in almost all subjects but without any way of telling from the final grade whether a grade C in maths resulted from an excellent performance on the lower tier paper or a poor one on the higher tier paper.

    Just as my O levels and CSEs were not devalued by GCSEs neither will GCSEs be affected by the new system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    3 Easy steps to being Michael Gove.

    1. Make up a lot of disinformation about how "broken" your department's stuff is .. when actually it isn't at all.
    2. Implement changes which will make everything worse
    3. Move on to another department.

    The Coalition of Idiots won't be happy until everything that's worth anything in this country is gone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Sounds like a good idea to me. Baccalaureate for all, taken at any age up to 18 and 'A' levels for the brighter and those that aspire to higher education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Three hours in which to test everything you've done in in the last 2 years? Then put these three hours slap bang in the middle of Hayfever season.
    That should sort the wheat from the chaff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Didn't we have something like this before the GCE?

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    This new certificate will absolutely ruin the country! It is beyond me how out of touch this government is with the world.
    Scrapping coursework is absolutely ridiculous. All this will do is mean that students will never have written a long essay or anything similar before university. How can a university student be expected to write a dissertation without ever having had any experience?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    drop in the ocean!

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    The solution would be to have a single exam, with the papers and curriculum being set by Oxford & Cambridge Universities. That way we could be sure that the exams were being set fairly by people with a professional understanding and vested interest in ensuring our children are receiving the best education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    People will jump on the idea purely because it's from Gove but it all sounds quite sensible to me and doesn't appear to create a 2 tier system

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Will there be a time when the system is left alone and not tinkered with ?

    Politicians have had sixty years to get it right and are still pratting around.


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