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 56.

    45. b223dy

    very good point. but i still feel Mr Gove is not the right person to lead education in our country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    G O V E No restrictions on what he chooses to do next. It is all about his need to be known and remembered as the man who destroyed state education I fear. Abolish GCSE by all means if it to be replaced by a school leaving exam at 18yrs. But he must stop this interference and deliberate planting of uncertainty for the pupils at secondary school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    "That's [sic] why we are making major changes to ensure we have world class exams that raise standards."

    I agree with that sentiment, who wouldn't? However politicians are not pedagogical experts.

    The N C needs to be revamped to align it with Baccalaureate exams otherwise we will be shoving round pegs in square holes come exam time.

    Time Gove stepped aside and an independent body took over.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

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

    GCSEs were brought in by Thatcher's government in the 1980s.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.


    'Teachers and other education professionals will know what is best for our children,'

    That will come some distance behind their concern about what is right for teachers.

    I can see teachers embracing the final exam. Sure, there'll be a step down in grades that aren't inflated by course-work and modular exams but, on the upside they'll have a lot less marking to do.

    They'll love it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Do not forget soon children will soon have to stay at school til they are 18
    What will they learn in those extra 2 years? No retakes?
    Joined up thinking needed
    Where are all of the teachers and classrooms to come from?
    All of this costs money we don't have

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.


    GCSEs, not GCSE's. MPs, not MP's. Until you get that right, you have no place to comment on standards of education.
    Are you saying those that have been poorly educated, and so cannot write 'properly', have no place commenting on education?

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    While we are inured to the Westminstergeist failing to sing from the same hymn sheet, this underlines the urgency in getting critical services provision out of the public sector.

    There is no more efficient or effective way to generate a first class product or service than to entrust it to the open market. Home grown or imported – we need a first class education system at pre-University level.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    All Gove cares about is making a name for himself by rushing through far-reaching changes.

    How can one person be allowed to make so many changes in such a short space of time!!

    No-one supports his idea in education, but that doesn't matter. Typical Tory arrogance!

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    It doesn't matter what exams they sit, if they're not getting the right teaching in the first place.
    Most of us are not rich, we need to expose our children to the state system. Here they sit alongside disruptive, motiveless kids (and teachers) who have no wish to be there, let alone learn or let others do so.
    Bring back grammars and streaming. Some will excell academically, others manually.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I wonder if our politicians will ever get education reform right. Every few years there is change and not always for the better.

    I appreciate the fact that change is necessary when you consider the number of teenagers leaving the education system unable to read and write properly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Its 1 thing to talk about child psychology, but what would you say when this children pass through a system and employers reject them for other EU students duee to their better education? Having a system where everyone passes does no good fo employment asit stalls innovation

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Any interference by career Politicians can be guaranteed to be wrong.

    Teachers and other education professionals will know what is best for our children, not self-serving, ideolistic, PR slime balls sitting in Westminster.

    Yesrterday, it was the Police force that saw Political interferrence, today education - all from unqualified career spivs in suits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    4 Minutes ago

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

    Bradford - GCSES where brought in by the Thatcher government in the mid 1980's because those with CSE's could not get jobs or access education post school without doing an extra year at 'o' level.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Too much rests on results at age 16+.
    As with all exams call them what you like they are only there to show that you have absorbed and can regurgitate the information. Good teachers make good pupils so let teachers teach and not become form fillers.I am more concerned with the children who leave school unable to read or write . Get this right and everything else will follow.
    Learning is for life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    A body of public servants demanding that we slow something down? As in further?

    As if the pace of change in this country isn't glacial enough, it seems the Education Select Committee would like these proposed changes to the GCSE system to take place after the heat death of the universe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Not sure about the Baccalaureate, but scrapping multiple exam boards for one per subject is a great improvement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    It appears to me that Gove is more interested in the glory ol' days than about education. He hasn't consulted anyone, schools, universities, business leaders, parents, teachers and the most important people of all, students. At the end of the day, its THEIR education, not his. If his education was so great, why is he such a idiot?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Gove is a clueless eejit. He should be sacked.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Trust the pompus Gove to come up with Baccalaureate, a medieval latin term that will surely bamboozle the average hoodie reprobate pupil?
    Too high-brow to be of any use in reality.


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