GCSEs replaced by 'English Bac' in key subjects


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

Related Stories

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Labour's shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, attacked the plans as "totally out of date, from a Tory-led government totally out of touch with modern Britain".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


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
  • Comment number 1186.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1185.

    I think the only really contentious part of this proposal is the scrapping of assessed coursework. This will benefit some people and disadvantage some others, but I wouldn't think massively; if you know the subject and get good marks in the (non-assessed) coursework throughout the year, there's a good chance you'll do well at the exam. That said I would have liked to see some coursework element.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1184.

    What a great idea... A decision to reign in the dumbed down education system of the past that has led to the academic abyss of the present has finally been taken. We used to have the number 1 system in the world which was idolised throughout the globe but it was dumbed down years ago for the masses. Finally the level is being elevated again to what we are capable of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1183.

    1177: "I for one support the proposed changes - a qualification should mean that I can differentiate between those who can, and those who simply cannot, when it comes to handing out a job"

    In what jobs is the ability to cram facts then handwrite answers in silence (exams) more relevant than the ability to research, manage and complete a project to a fixed schedule (coursework)?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1182.

    Dear Andrea at 1172, Up to 1997, the school leaving age in the UK was 16. At 16, those who gained 4 GCE 'O' levels or more could go on to study for GCE 'A' levels in the school sixth form or at a local college, or could leave and find a job. Those with less than 4 passes had to find a job or apprenticeship. The Blair govt. raised the school leaving age to 18, but GCSE exams at 16 remain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1181.

    Doing well at school exams is a waste of time under capitalism.

    Either you go it alone, in which case it doesn't matter how well you did in that test because business success *is* the test, or you're going for employment, in which case treatment is determined by employer's whim - not school grade/&c.

    I worked hard at school and did well. Waste of time. Should have played outside more instead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1180.

    1172. Andrea - I think it's so people can judge whether they have an aptitude for a university education (for which they will take A levels) or a more vocational course like an apprenticeship.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1179.

    No coursework, one exam is madness.

    Coursework proves you work well. You manage time, develop ideas and solve problems. You learn when to ask for help, and when to knuckle down and get on with it.

    Exam results prove you can cram then frantically write things you'll forget within a week.

    I've actually used things I learnt in GCSE coursework in real work. I remember nothing from my exams.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1178.

    1173. endangeredlogic
    I saw no suggestion that 1164 was blaming the kids despite your insinuation.
    Really? Heres the rest of his post

    ''and these are 16 and 17 year olds with grand designs of going to university!''

    Grand designs of going to University? Oh the temerity!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1177.

    Here is an awful truth - a fact - in life. Some people are smarter than others. Dumbing down the examinations isn't going to make people smarter. I for one support the proposed changes - a qualification should mean that I can differentiate between those who can, and those who simply cannot, when it comes to handing out a job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1176.

    Personally I see this as an issue of fairness. How can we fairly assess students across the UK? Scrapping exam boards is a necessary requirement, to provide a fair comparison betoween people they need to do the same exam - not a different one which prevents comparison - a person who does maths in Yorkshire can then be compared to one in Devon. Its obvious. A level playing field for our children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1175.

    I suggest giving the exam board private monopoly (Italian corporatism works out so well, you know) to ATOS. The test will ask two questions:
    1) Can you write?
    2) Do you have any pets?

    The test is marked out of 10. If you say yes to 1), you get 10 marks. If you say yes to 2), you get -5 marks, unless you say you keep a "cod", in which case you get +15 marks because, well, friends in high places.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1174.

    The problem is, no one can really agree on what is the best way to educate a child or even what educating a child entails. The reason for this is becuase there is no "best way" and every system designed will only cater for a proportion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1173.

    1164 -"I encounter countless school-leavers who come into my company on work experience who cannot spell, don't know when to use capital letters or the most basic of punctuation"
    1168. -"I'm sure you do but if you buy a product that is badly made do you blame the product itself or the person who made it?"

    I saw no suggestion that 1164 was blaming the kids despite your insinuation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1172.

    I'm very curious about the concept of having an exam at age 16. I see the concept as a cultural aspect identified with Britain. Could someone please explain to me why it is necessary to have an exam at age 16 ,. Coming from Finland were no exams were taken until you were at 6th form- which is quite common in the rest of Europe, I continue to ask the question why ? Please can someone explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1171.

    Don't you just get sick of crumby salesmen taking over precise quality words, like Baccalaureate, and turning them into any old thing they like. Soon there won't be any words to describe anything that is better than the average.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1170.

    I think the main reason for the change in structure is because there is a perception that the modular assessment system has, and is, being abused.
    There are drawbacks to both testing structures but it is a lot harder to cheat in an exam.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1169.

    Dear Mr. Gove

    Take a look at the link below and tell me if the leap " Back to the Future" you propose will really prepare our children for what will face them in the future. Somehow i think I know the answer.......


    Our children are being sacrificed for political expediency - again !

  • rate this

    Comment number 1168.

    1164. Benjibabes

    I encounter countless school-leavers who come into my company on work experience who cannot spell, don't know when to use capital letters or the most basic of punctuation
    I'm sure you do but if you buy a product that is badly made do you blame the product itself or the person who made it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1167.

    To those who say the exams aren't much more than a 'memory test', isn't life a memory test? I still remember new facts and thoughts I was taught at school that help me in my job today...


Page 1 of 60


More Education & Family stories



Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. 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.