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Labour's shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, attacked the plans as "totally out of date, from a Tory-led government totally out of touch with modern Britain".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 906.

    Baccalaureate! Don't you mean Back-a-lorry-up i.e. ready to dump on the children taking exams? My qualifications’ are BSc Cert Ed, I have 10, 12 and 15 year old children, I have taught within education and can safely say that this will put Great Britain backwards. Still, we will only have to wait a few years once it’s up and running for it all to be altered again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 905.

    4 Hours ago
    Have 7 grandchildren; I am constantly amazed by how illeterate and ignorant the eldest (at secondary school) are.." Really? Did they teach you to check spelling and gammar?

  • rate this

    Comment number 904.

    I wish we could leave this to the educators - it is their job after all - politicians shouldn't meddle in things they have no experience in. It always leads to a total mess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 903.

    "Grammar schools meant that lots of kids from non-privileged backgrounds had the chance of a top class education without having to pay for it..."

    ...while the majority of kids had their education budget pared to the bone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 902.

    How to give us 60% of school leavers with qualifications that no employer will be willing to recognise.
    This is worse than a return to the old secondary moderns. It takes us back beyong 'O' levels to the age of matricualtion. That's all this English Bacc will be.
    God Gove Go.
    This form of elitism should have died out long ago. The nasty party are back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 901.

    I'm all for improving teaching standard and making sure the exam system reflects that, but the government have got this all wrong and they're running a serious risk of condemning a whole generation of young people to failure.

    I'm a Conservative voter, but this is one area where I strongly disagree with the government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 900.

    Anyone saying a single exam is just a memory test clearly hasn't done a secondary school exam in a while. A certain percentage of questions have to be application-based - for example, the paper will ask you something that you don't know and expect you to apply existing knowledge to answer it. So no paper is inherently a memory test, it depends entirely on the content.

  • rate this

    Comment number 899.

    At the end of the day, even the best examination system will only tell you that you are as good as you are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 898.

    I can't believe all these 'head in the sand' negative comments. The UK is slipping down the international educational ladder and we must accept change and understand the need to raise standards. We have become a victim society which rates emotional tantrums above genuine success. In fact success and aspiration is despised as elitism. The UK has had it these comments represent us all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 897.

    The English Bac is strange. Have they taken into account that some schools offer iGCSE Maths for example. How would this workout as a contribution to the Bac? Would you still have to take 8 exams for a full E. Bac. Maths would not be part of it. Do the government know that iGCSEs exist as a qualification? I really think the shadow education sec had a point with an all party consultation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 896.

    They are the experts in their field, HUGE experience and first hand working knowledge, listen to them (Government take note). They strive daily for the best for our children whilst battling through political change and parental blame. YOU have no constructive insight into their world, your blindly stupid comment speaks volumes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 895.

    886. Whazzup

    'We're even falling behind countries like India and China in education now!'

    You've been reading the Daily Mail too much. Look at the levels of illiteracy in those countries for a start. What they have is a very good education for a few and a second rate system, or none, for most. Surely Michael Gove can't want .. oh, sorry, hang on, what am I thinking?

  • rate this

    Comment number 894.

    Too many people here think memory is unimportant. Rubbish. Memory is critical. If you're discussing something in a meeting you won't be able to offer informed opinion without a good store of information on which to base any reasoning. The current system isn't delivering.
    Perhaps multiple modules to qualify kids to take a final exam, (rather than contributing to the result) would help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 893.

    I'm 65. I took A level French 5 years ago.
    Someone has lent me a 1958 'O' level paper, which I've just finished.
    The 1958 'O' level paper was about the same difficulty level as my 2007 'A' level paper.

  • rate this

    Comment number 892.

    Grammar schools meant that lots of kids from non-privileged backgrounds had the chance of a top class education without having to pay for it. Now we have a system where virtually no-one outside of a few church schools and a smattering of decent state ones, gets any sort of education without paying through the nose. All in the name of "equality"; i.e. mediocrity for all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 891.

    881.Billythefirst Engineers developed to sit a 3 hour exam, ICT skills in a 3 hour exam? Do these not need practical skills developed over a period of time not a rote learnt "fact" to answer an exam question? This "all or nothing" exam will do nothing to develop the skills needed by industry or universities. A retrograde step for all concerned but particularly the children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 890.

    884. ProdribsSharpstick JUST NOW 860.Hairo "Thank Shirley Williams for that."

    Yes, thank her for wrecking British education with misplaced notions that everyone should have substandard schooling, all in the name of equality.

    Well done. A*

  • rate this

    Comment number 889.


    Since when did anyone sit 10 exams at once!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 888.


    "Back to basics - the 3 Rs +++"


    Hey let's hear it for the dinosaur rightly ridiculed by Anglerfish. Your views are uninformed prejudice.

    Why do overseas students flock our universities?

    Oops, sorry, a fact to disturb your baseless waffling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 887.

    1st we need to decide what it is we want school leavers to know and what we want them to be able to do with it. Only then can we implement a sensible system, but Mr Gove needs to remember we are educating everyone from street sweepers to boffins.
    A single exam is a tall order even if we do need higher standards. Too many rejects is worse than too many stars.
    I'll wait & see!


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