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 296.

    This is a mixed bag.GCSE's have been flawed since early 90's (personal experience), league tables and obsession with "false" student achievement eclipse ACTUAL education.Like arts;education style needs to adapt to its audience(Vocational/Academic). Curriculum should be developed in partnership with employers,but built on key skills that are transferable between disciplines.Avoid knee-jerk reaction

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.


    I am reminded of a story my dad tells about his 11-plus exam. The nub of one question was "If the houses on one side of the road are numbered 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 what are the numbers of the houses on the opposite side?". He lived in a very small town where the houses were numbered consecutively on each side of the road. Others taking the exam were from larger towns ...........

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    Gove is not so much damaging but destroying. I have worked in education for over 30 years and there are people on the recieving end of these whims. Children, parents and teachers are having their lives pressured by this fool.
    In a bizarre way it is surprising that you can be so appalling bad at your job and still be employed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    One of the best things our last government did (quite early on) was to give control of interest rates to the Bank of England, ending the ability of politicians to set rates in knee jerk reactions to percieved issues. As many have said we need that same kind of independence and qualification in Education policy decisions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    The TU's have killed off most of the unskilled jobs through unrealistic wage demands.
    Rubbish. The abolishing of apprenticeships for those who were not academically gifted (and the consequent de-valuing of non-academic qualifications/NVQs) killed off most of the unskilled jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    Interesting, isn't it?

    Some things, i.e. those introduced by the tories, are acknowledged (by meticulous avoidance of the alternative by commentators) to be subject to Absolute Irreversibility: anti-union laws, privatisation etc.

    Others, such as our kids education and our health, are accepted as political playthings by the same, to be mucked about with endlessly for publicity etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    Parents who care about their children`s education send them to a private school.

    Others spend £200 / week on entertainment (beer, football, meals out etc.) That is their choice.

    For those who genuinely can`t afford private education there is often a bursary available.

    There used to be an "Assisted places" scheme - this scheme was scrapped by The Labour party out of their hatred for excellence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    School upheaval, benefit cuts, Council Tax up etc. A look at the root of all the Coalition attacks on society reveals someone making a fat profit and Government responsibility ignored. All so that the Tories can change the face of Britain and help their friends to make money.
    And now Dave turns his attention to a defence of money in North Africa.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    the next Tory policy, Bullingdon clubs to be rolled out nationally. every comprehensive school will soon have its own elite dinning society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    Go to the Eurostat website and follow the links: you will see that I am correct & you are wrong!
    It's about time people don't allow their political ideologies prevent us from accepting the fact that NuLabour presided over a huge decline in standards despite the hundreds of millions pumped into education! PS the 'education system' to which you refer is not standards and achievement!

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    The real issue isn't about Gove, or Tory vs labour.. its the system

    Ask your MP where their kid goes to school... ''none of your business'' will come the answer. At least Diane Abbot admits she sends her kids to a Private school.

    The political classes might quibble over minor issues like tests, but deep down they wont gamble with their own kids lives... they say if you cant beat em, join em!

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    Oh just go back to O levels, everybody understands these, Grade A to C = pass , D to E borderline F = Fail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    The thing is good people... Gove knows nothing about education... Prime Idiot ditto.
    They are clueless and have no understanding of pedagogy or androgogy (in fact they probably think they are sex crimes or the like). God help us

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    By legal definition we are talking about children here - not students. Students are in further education.Years ago children who did well in GCE's went to Uni or commerce at 'junior executive' level. Children who did less well and / or had no GCE's went into admin, industry, building trades or unskilled labour. The TU's have killed off most of the unskilled jobs through unrealistic wage demands.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.


    '2)Ebacc is too narrow. MUST include a humanities and a creative subject.'

    Says who? Humanities teachers? Art teachers?

    School should be equipping kids to get a job. To get a job they'll need to be able to read, write and do maths. The rest is 'nice to have' but I'd rather we were making sure that the maths and English qualifications were worth the paper they're printed on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    An eminent academic once told me that exams were a good way of showing that if someone put a gun to your head you could talk your way out of getting shot – but not of assessing what you knew. Unfortunately talking your way out of things seems to be the only skill that politicians recognise or value – or indeed possess themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    It seems GCSEs these days aren't worth the paper they're written on. With record numbers of students getting top grades, how is it possible for universities/employers to distinguish between the academic abilities of different candidates? A fundamental overhaul is definitely required - if the more challenging "E-Bacs" turn out to be the answer, then roll them out for all subjects and scrap GCSEs!

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    @270 - I stand corrected, you are, of course, correct. :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    254 adgwytc

    To be fair to young people a huge amount of older people have problems with their, there and they're too though. You often see those and similar errors here on HYS, regularly in top rated posts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    How much are all in these changes in education, and the NHS, costing?
    s there a hidden agenda?


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