MPs condemn plan to scrap GCSEs

Student taking exam The select committee has raised doubts about exam changes planned for autumn 2015

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The government's plan to scrap GCSEs in key subjects in England has been strongly criticised by MPs.

The Education Select Committee voiced concerns about the timetable for change, saying changing "too much, too fast" could threaten exam quality.

The cross-party committee has been examining plans to replace GCSEs with English Baccalaureate certificates.

The government said it was "making major changes to ensure we have world class exams that raise standards".

'Damaged brand'

The committee's report raises doubts about the pace and direction of the shake-up planned for GCSEs.

It said there were so many worries, it should act as a "red light" to the government.

The government says it wants to abolish GCSEs for core subjects and introduce English Baccalaureate certificates from 2015. There will also be only one exam board for each subject.

Start Quote

No sensible reform of assessment can take place without clarity as to what is to be taught”

End Quote Graham Stuart Education Select Committee chairman

But the committee said the government had failed to prove such a change was necessary.

It also raised concerns about introducing English Baccalaureate certificates in English, maths and science while still running "discredited" GCSEs for other subjects.

The committee's report said it agreed with many of the plans to overhaul GCSEs - such as moving exams to the end of a course and limiting the culture of excessive resits.

But it rejected the idea that GCSEs were such a "damaged brand" that they needed to be abolished.

The committee also questioned the "coherence" of introducing changes to GCSEs before deciding the accompanying national curriculum.

It called on the government to publish its plans for the secondary curriculum "as soon as possible".

"No sensible reform of assessment can take place without clarity as to what is to be taught. Coherence is not achieved by accident but by design," said Graham Stuart, the committee chairman and Conservative MP.

Committee chair and Tory MP Graham Stuart: "We're not sure the government has thought this through properly"

There are also strong concerns about the speed of so many proposed changes - and the pressures that it will place on the exam system.

The report pointed to the controversy of last summer's English GCSE results as an example of the "turbulence" that could be caused by changes to the exam system.

The timetable was "not merely challenging but so tight that it may risk endangering the quality", it said.


The report said the government should consider Ofqual's recommendation that moving to a single exam board for each subject should be "decoupled" from the overhaul of qualifications.

The MPs urged caution when considering upheavals in exams.

Start Quote

We have been clear that the secondary education system is in desperate need of a thorough overhaul”

End Quote Department for Education

"We recommend that the government takes time for careful consideration and slows down the pace of change," the committee's report concluded.

The report also highlighted the opposition of "stakeholders" in education to the reforms - and the responses from teachers' union reflected this hostility.

The National Union of Teachers' leader, Christine Blower, said the government's position on exam reform was "now surely untenable".

"The education secretary is totally isolated in his view that the English Baccalaureate certificates are a suitable measure to replace GCSEs," she said.

Chris Keates, of the NASUWT teachers union, accused the government of displaying "arrogant disregard for the impact on the lives of young people".

Labour leader Ed Miliband said there was "a groundswell against Michael Gove's plan" because he was "squeezing creativity out of the curriculum".

"Also he's not really focusing on those kids who maybe aren't going to go to university but need high quality vocational qualifications," said Mr Miliband.

'Thorough overhaul'

Dr Mary Bousted, head of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "This is a devastating critique of the government's policy. Michael Gove will lack any credibility if his response is 'I know best; carry on.'

"The parliamentary committee now joins a long list of those who publicly oppose the plans."

Russell Hobby, from the National Association of Head Teachers, suggests the plans do not address the problems with exams

But the Department for Education said the report accepted the need for major improvements.

"We have been clear that the secondary education system is in desperate need of a thorough overhaul - an objective with which the committee agrees," said an education department spokeswoman.

"That why we are making major changes to ensure we have world class exams that raise standards."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    To make things harder for students, here are my suggestions for both GCSE and A-levels:
    . 2-3 end of 2 year study exams (no more modular exams) per subject
    . No coursework
    . Students not allowed to resit papers just to get a better grade. Only times they are allowed to do so are when they never sat the original exam through illness or if they got a U grade.

    Sorts the wheat from the chaff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Its the economy Stupid.

    Politicians must devote more time to fixing the economy and less time on distractions like this one.

    We will always be able to find issues that divide us. If we had a decent economy, we could choose for ourselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    IMichael Gove thinks it's a good idea

    Rest Assured

    It isn't!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.


    There are only 2 reasons for that bad reputation - incoming Govts always criticise exsting to "justify" the changes they want to make, usually ideologically driven, not evidence based.

    2nd because the public love slagging todays youngesters off, it has to every generation - your Grandparents said exectly the same of O Levels in your day......

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I would suggest that tinkering with the education system is not the a priority, when our economy is in a state of near total collapse. This is just an unnecessary and expensive distraction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Our vile Policians have been constantly messing with our education system and for what? What have they actually gained?

    Child and parent stress, thats what, nothing else.

    Gove and Ed Balls before you - keep your hands of our children - and leave the education system to the professionals ie: the teachers.


  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I was one of the last pupils to sit a CSE before it was combined with
    GCE`s in order to reduce standards.

    I still have my useless grade 4 CSE certificate for Spanish - a subject I was hopeless at.

    Nobody ever failed a CSE - a rubbish exam.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Whether people like it or not the credibility of our education system is low. The acid test of its success is the attitude of employers. If, after 12+ years of education school leavers are not prepared for work then the system is a failure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    With kids in Yr 9 & Yr 6, I agree with the select committee. Gove must understand that ill-thought out change now will blight the lives of millions of children. GCSEs need reform but this must be done properly. Take time & get it right or another set of reforms will be needed in 5 years times.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Why !!!!!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Had we had a similar diploma instead of GCE’s and CSE’s I would have been greatly disadvantaged. As it happened I took and passed 10 exams when I left school, 3 GCE’s and 7 CSE’s. Diplomas are for higher education not the end of secondary education. Stop changing the system it is confusing and disruptive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    As long as I can remember, education secretary after secretary has treated our education system as a brand new toy to play with. It is about time that education was removed from direct government control and overseen by a panel of people who actually know what they are doing

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    These are quite definitely the wrong changes to make. I do hope Gove eventually gets the hint.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Go back to CSE and 'O' Levels. It was simple then

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    You don't have to completely change a system to fix peoples attitudes towards it.

    If I had true vision during my secondary school years, and where made fully aware of my GCSE results presence on my CV (even during university placement applications), and the impact that learning fundamentals sooner rather than later would mean...

    I would have tried harder.

    It has little to do with the 'system'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    It seems that education has been treated as a great social experiment for too long, it needs some sort of stability. when I was at school, at least you knew where you stood with A and O levels, and CSEs, now it changes so quickly, and there are so many rumours about dumbing down (horrible phrase), how are employers supposed to know what it all means?


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