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 96.

    What is Gove's teaching experience? He was a journalist. He was also been educated in SCOTLAND. How would he know what is best for English students? So he has no teaching experience, never sat English exams at school. You really couldn't make this up - I am a Scot by the way. Leave the English to decide their own education Gove.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    20 Minutes ago
    "Too much rests on results at age 16+.
    This is just an excuse for the cant do anything wrong , life owes me a living brigade of children that are never criticsed and brought up to believe that whatever rubbish they churn out is acceptable. The sooner they realise that they have to knuckle down and work hard the better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    85. Pricklyghost

    Can you add Health and Defence to that too please?

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Gove is a control freak who thinks only he can be correct. Why not 'change' to iGCSE's which are used by independent schools, overseas schools following a UK syllabus and now the better state schools. These exams are well proven and already highly respected by universities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    This is part of the problem of out of touch Government educated separately and no1 understanding the people.
    There is a need and there is ability for a small academically educated group who benefit from this. (20% approx)
    There is a need for everyone to have basic skills including communication
    There is a need for more technical skills, Polish Pumbers etc.
    We need more IT literate people etc

  • Comment number 91.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    The Ansers:
    1. Respect teachers: Good teachers are essential to high-quality education. Finding and retaining them is not necessarily a question of high pay. Instead, teachers need to be treated as the valuable professionals they are, not as technicians in a huge, educational machine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    At last, the ruination of Education by 13 years of Labour Government is being sorted out and fairness and standards coming back. Of course the Teaching Trade Unions will be upset but the pupils will benefit. Well done Mr. Gove.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Mr Gove is a man in a desperate hurry to drive through his ideology, against all advice for the teaching profession, to further his career. In 2015 he will be out of office and on the back benches - I hope anyway. Someone else will then have to pick up the pieces and rebuild the younger generation's education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Personally I can't see the problem with GCSE's. If they are becoming too easy, then simply increase the % at which specific grades are awarded (but not halfway through the school year, eh?) GCSE's cater for those pupils that are good at coursework, and also those that are good at exams. Nothing worse than spending 2 years studying only to have a shocking 2 hours in the exam room

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Any qualification will suffer the same fate if they are administered the same way. Perhaps the emphasis should be on educating kids rather than meeting targets. Far too much continual monitoring/assessing. Just get the current system right instead of throwing everything up in the air and starting again. Less disruption to kids and some badly needed continuity for the teachers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Things as important as education should be removed from government to stop all this political meddling, it should be administered by an independent body who actually know what they're doing & not by some halfwit who is simply given the job by the prime idiot of the day in a vain effort to score political points!

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    I've only got 1 GCSE. Mind you I do have lots of O-levels, A-levels and degrees.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Gove ...he is getting tedious. But probably just doing what his masters want:

    To bring back a system of inequality in the education system in order that only 'the chosen' can be educated and 'rule'.
    Devalue the craft, skills and manual occupations. Reintroduce poverty, workhouses and slavery. Maximise profit for the few at the expense of the many.
    Where to start? Yup... education. Or lack of it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    One exam body, who produce exams for each subject, undertaken by every school in the nation.

    It's an incredibly simple, fair concept.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    I did both O-Levels & GCSEs. O-Levels were hard. GCSE's were a joke; Peter & Jane stuff. Fly-counting!

    People claim it's teaching not exams that makes an education. Wrong. You can't teach times-tables at degree-level and get a rocket-scientist. Nowadays I hire school-leavers with A-grade A level maths who can't handle a VAT change.

    Exams need to be hard. I felt cheated by my GCSEs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Now i'm no expert but this plan couldn't be more half-arsed if it only had one buttock.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    I hate the idea of all exams because they are too unrealistic to the real world. You are never going to be sitting at work not allowed to use a book or the Internet to complete a task. There needs to be more more emphasis on coursework as it teaches you how to do research, take relevant data and mould it into what you are trying to say, and how to identify sources that are relevant and accurate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    "damaged brand"
    Oh for the days of my youth when all my neighbours had signs by their gates saying "No Con Men". Confidence is now the basis of the global economy and Boris asks us not to mention that our banks have failed because he is marketing them abroad as 'strong'. I wish I'd graduated in management so I could ride the bluff rocket.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Mr Gove, you have no background in education. You might be a very good minister, but you are in the wrong job. Your background does not qualify you to run the Dept of Education.

    Please listen to those who have taught for a long time (32 years in my case). This reform is wrong. It will harm standards. Please stop it before it goes too far.

    Otherwise, time for a reshuffle, Mr Cameron.


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