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 76.

    We need to do something about this, after nu-labour kept watering them down and spun it as "record exam sucess"...
    20 years ago we did 8-9 GCSE and getting them al A-C was a great sucess, nowerdays kids are doing +15 and expecting to get A-A* in them all!
    In my day to do 15 GCSE's you would need to physically sit through 80 hours of class so something has gone badly wrong under Tony...

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Conservative Party Paradox - number 1089

    - We want to raise standards to compete with Europe and the rest of the World!
    - We want out of the EU and to isolate ourselves internationally!

    Even a simple dot-to-dot picture would be too much for this Tory party to understand!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Poor youth of today. Forever reading / hearing that their exams are not good enough. No wonder so many are uninspired and disillusioned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    I saw the exam results of a friend's daughter last summer. Lovely girl. Whole slew of A*.

    But the piece of paper was surreal. Four or five different exam boards, all doubtless chosen by the school for the simplicity of that particular exam, a matrix of numbers and grades.

    My 'O' Levels had a single exam board and grade (except maths - which admittedly had likewise been cherry-picked - SMP).

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

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

    Trouble is we all know how arrogant Gove etc are are they won't listen then when it goes wrong, which it will, they will all be shouting 'but we inherited the problems'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    All Policiticans are doing is listening to the wants of their Banker & Corporate chums.

    They are creating a vast pool of Corporate fodder for their Business friends ie: Our Children who are being groomed in way as child molesters groom their victims then being fed to their Corporate chums.

    Politicians are robbing our kids of their childhood so their friends can make bi££ions from them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Every suggestion that Gove makes goes against all current research.

    His idea of removing all formative assessment and only delivering one massive test at the end of two years shows how little he knows about education theory.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    The problem with Ebacc is that by concentrating on those 5 subjects then other subjects will be emphasised less. Why should state schools offer triple sciences (or even double) if single science meets the requirement, especially if the other sciences are from different exam boards? Why should anyone take English Lit if "English" meets the requirement? Same with Arts, languages, music etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    There is never a perfect person to do a job, what we can hope for is someone to identify a problem who decides to start a change process. I may not like Gove personally but he has identified an important problem & has started steps to rectify it. For that i may support him as others failed to recognise this. The future of this country is important

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Gove has his eye on the "Top Job" thats his ambition at play here
    Glory for him not necessarily for our children

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    I wonder if Gove would pass any of these new exams ? I bet he wouldn't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Why are the government simply not understanding that not all students are suited to classical academia and higher levels of education? They seem to be hellbent on setting up a system whereby the students with lower levels of ability are basically doomed: cutting vocational courses, re-introducing draconian and outdated standards, Classics back on the curriculum. Not every school is Eton, you know!

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.


    >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.

    State education was wrecked by those who abolished selective schools and the exam boards who allowed such grade inflation that our exam system became worthless. Teachers and Exam boards hating him is a good sign.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    I have a proposal for Mr Gove: base your educational reforms on something other than a bizarre fever dream you just woke up from.

    How about setting up a panel of recognised experts whose remit is to consult with education authorities in countries noted for their standards in education and, crucially, ACCEPT THEIR FINDINGS AND IMPLEMENT THEM, not just settle for a diluted compromise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Your first task - spell the word "Baccalaureate"

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Maybe this debate wouldn't be happeing if we all had the same level of education as Dave 'Iggle Piggle' Cameron, Gideon Osborne or Piers Fletcher Clegg? (OK, maybe not the latter teehee)

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Everything this government is doing is aimed at devaluing family life, kids are going to spend more time in school/baby sitting services, so parents can spend every breathing moment working. I for one will not be a slave to this tory state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Typical tory dogma harking back to the past with rose tinted glasses, half of these guffawing buffoons think they live on the Downton Abbey set.
    Can anyone save us from this government obsessed with ideology rather than mandate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Working, understandable and legible English reading and writing would be nice, rather than 'O'rdinary benefit claiming and 'A'dvanced benefit claiming at Jeremy Kyle College of further education.

    28 years of consecutive 'best grades ever' was a complete con while in truth we appear to be at an all time low

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Exams dont raise standards... they raise anxiety


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