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 36.

    GCSEs, not GCSE's. MPs, not MP's. Until you get that right, you have no place to comment on standards of education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    It isn't schools or teaching standards which have improved a lot - it's the exam structure.

    Tiering in maths and science encourages mediocrity, concentration on A*-C emphasises C grades, multiple exam boards encourages reduction in standards. So abolish tiering, set one exam in sections, base rewards on total points per pupil per core subject taken and set on board per subject. 25% Mr Gove.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Education is simply too important to leave it to political dogma from either main party. Instead of re-arranging the deckchairs to suit their own political prejudices, the main thing they should be doing is to set up a panel of acknowleged experts whose sole purpose is to do an in-depth study of the world's best educational systems (like Finland), and propose how to implement unchanged in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    There's still plenty for these crazy Tories to destroy! What they are doing to the UK is tantamount to genocide, destroying culture/society through force with total disregard for the consequences on peoples lives. Cameron is about as sympathetic as an Arctic Skua devouring a newly hatched Puffin chick!

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    I am no education expert or teacher etc etc...but we need someone other than Mr Gove running the education sector in the country! Apparently this man and his team have minimal experience of teaching, understanding child psychology etc. If this info is incorrect then someone please correct me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    I have no problem with replacing existing GCSE's with the new 'Bac's' IF the new exams actually test the pupils.
    For too long each year we are told of record numbers of exam passes only to find that the questions are significantly watered down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Its says it all when special school have to teach the National curriculum! Special school need looking into. Instead of teaching maths when the children do not get it.
    The children should be learning life skills make a cup of tea etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    GCSEs were brought in by Labour to avoid the two tier system of CSEs & O levels. CSEs were effectively worthless.

    However by amalgamating them with the ethos of nobody fails, the overall effect has been to devalue the whole exam system.

    It comes down to this, do you encourage the best at the expense of the worst ? or do you accept a common standard which accomodates all levels

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Some criticism is fair, but on the other hand, this looks a bit like another day, another BBC story.

    There seems never to be a day when the BBC doesn't feature a story telling us how crap the rest of us are, and something about America. So today, this story, and the death of one of the Andrews Sisters gets more time than the Brazil fire.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

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

    Raising standards or raising child & parent stress?

    What happened to children having a childhood - is that now banned by our vile Politicians in favour of grooming our kids to become Corporate fodder?

    Politicians interferring with our children are in the same league as Savile.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I do wish politicians would stop tinkering about with our education system. If MPs really need to justify their jobs, perhaps they'd like to find something more positive to do with their time and tax-payers money! For a start, they should ensure that ALL teachers can speak English and spell properly. I'm appalled by the low standard of English shown by teachers at my daughter's school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Excuse me, but it isn't it mps making the changes that mps are 'concerned' about.
    They seem to want to pull this one everyday with every policy.
    Would it be too much to ask them to get it right, it would cut down on committees and their time.
    Mind you what would they do then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    My biggest fear is that we go back to a two tier system similar to O Level and CSE where kids are as good as written off at 11. That's not to say we shouldn't stream pupils but up to school leaving age every child should have the opportunity to do as well as they can. I'll bet there aren't many people that sat CSE's calling for the reintroduction of O Levels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Again the sole focus is going on pure academic subjects. The emphasis is on identifying excellence. Esteem follows. We keep missing the points that there is also excellence in arts and vocational qualifications. There is no reason why they should be second class certificates of attendance. If we sought out true excellence in vocational areas GCSE's could earn parity of esteem with the new EBC's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    If they actually raise standards pupils might fail, schools won't meet their targets and politicians won't be able to point to a graph showing rising standards of education. So when it comes to the crunch, they will dumb the new qualifications down to cover their own backs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    1987/88 GCSE's brought in by Conservative Government, scrapped GCE's and CSE's, brought in coursework etc etc massive changes the educational world had to cope with
    2015 change it all back to another 2 tier system designed by whom?

    They are very good at telling you WHAT to do burt never explain HOW you are to do it? and nevr give you the resources
    All of this imposed from on high by "Experts"

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    GCSE has been deliberately denigrated so that Gove could rush in his return to a mythical past - Ebac looks like the old Matriculation, an all or nothing qualification. He's fixated on 'proper' subjects and telling children they have failed. He won't change his mind - he's never been wrong, has he? - as they're political, rather than educational changes with no evidence to support them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Just as those of us with 'O' Levels have to listen to a generation of numpties with A* in modular GCSEs from the simplest examining board their school could source telling us how clever they are so now will our kids have to listen to the same 'golden generation' of prodogies lording it over them.

    Will we ever again see a generation of geniuses such as the GCSE generation of 1985 - 2015?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    7 Minutes ago
    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.

    I assume your exams didn't tackle correct apostrophe usage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    No point in making recommendations to this government. They are determined to make idealistic changes that the majority of people disagree with

    I will not vote Lib Dem again as they didn't stop damaging reforms to;
    the NHS
    armed services
    benefits to disabled
    social housing


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