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 496.

    @495 Gary The Teacher

    'No wonder so many independent schools teach iGCSE (International GCSE) courses instead: less interference.'

    Much harder though. A lot of them are final exam only. Maths GCSE has calculus.

    I don't think too many state schools, with their 14 GCSE prodigies, will be going down that route.

  • rate this

    Comment number 495.

    Teaching in the British education system has been like sweeping leaves in a thunderstorm for some years. However, the latest changes - right or wrong - have been made at quite short notice and have left people with little confidence in the way things are going.

    No wonder so many independent schools teach iGCSE (International GCSE) courses instead: less interference.

  • rate this

    Comment number 494.

    Speaking as a Maths GCSE examiner the exams have not become easier over the 10+ years I have been marking; the exams have become harder in the last 3 years. Many people seem to think that a good Maths GCSE indicates good numeracy skills, but that is only a relatively small component of the course. There is a perfectly good course available, Functional Skills, for "everyday" maths skills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 493.

    Now Mr Gove, let me ask you a question.

    When was the last time your Civil Servants wrote you a speech that was perfect first time? After you, your Special Adviser, Permanent Secretary and others have had their say your final speech will almost certainly be on its fourth or fifth draft.

    Why should our children be expected to get it all right in just one go?

  • rate this

    Comment number 492.

    As an HR professional, I know how appallingly low the standards of GCSEs have become. Youngsters frequently can't write decent English, spell correctly, understand grammar, pronounce their consonants and have no skill in argument. And their arithmetic is non-existent. They are frequently unemployable except on production lines and there are few left in the UK. As for future academics ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 491.

    I agree, it would level things out but it would also mean that around 500,000 more children would require their education paid for by the state, or should I say by the tax payer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.

    @472. covo
    Streaming was still alive and well the last time I was in a school. Each pupil was streamed based on ability in a particular subject (so could be top stream for science, bottom for french).
    Any sensible school would do this as you are correct, not everyone is the same.
    The real GCSE problem is that teachers and exam bodies have a vested interest in 100% grade A's

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.

    Michael Gove's revised plans:
    "I have decided that pupils should now take new Super Academic Certificates (SACs) that begin teaching at 4 and culminate in a single 36-hour exam at the end of Year 13. A score below 90% results in a beating. All exams must be completed by candlelight, using a quill. These changes will be implemented tomorrow, but the curriculum, will be"

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    353.Trout Mask Replica
    OK, let's look at supply and demand. 7% of kids get privately educated (£10K/y min). Let's abolish state education and put an average of £1000 a year back in the pockets of taxpayers..."

    We need to abolish PRIVATE education to put all kids onto a level playing field otherwise deep social divisions occur as is happening now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.


    Don't beat yourself up over it. Very few people would regard that as a grammatical error. It's a question of where you want to put the emphasis. I think your sentence was fine.

  • Comment number 486.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    Not fit to govern. Told you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    @479. HilaryJ
    You all miss the basics. 14 GCSE's, given that most schools operate on 5 50 minute slots a day - 25 a week, that is just over an hour a week per subject. Given that the school year is so short then apparently it now takes what 70 hours per GCSE. That is a whole lot less than it took for an old fashioned O level. Says a lot doesn't it really?

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    I left school in 2003. Didn't actually have to work until I went to university. GCSEs are failing all kids. I was bright and really struggled at the age of 19 I had to work to learn things for the first time in my life. However these proposals don't seem the way forward. Change is needed but they should focus on improving vocational qualifications and make GCSEs harder. That's all they need to do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    'An apostrophe can be correctly used for a contraction'. (I passed O Level English but I still misplace adverbs)

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.


    You must have been away on the day where the issue of split infinitives were covered?

    Come now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    @32. krismais
    Gove is no different to ministers in any government over the last 30 or so years. A brainless buffoon without experience or knowledge reciting sound bites from civil servants with axes to grind. The civil servants may be trying to sell him something good, or they may be wanting to kill his career. He just doesn't have the where with all to know which.

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.



    'I did well in my GCSE's getting 14 grades between C-A*.'

    'It is a shame that during your education you did not learn how to correctly use the apostrophe. Hopefully, English was not one of your 14 high graded subjects.'

    An apostrophe can be correctly used for a contraction. (I passed O Level English)

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    Teachers teach so that kids can understand not just remember facts. We were getting too close to a society where people understand more and so ask questions. As a government, what would you prefer? A populace that can think for itself and question your policy or sheep who do as they are told?

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    May I refer you to my previous post, my son is in year 11 and all year groups are streamed based on ability in nearly all subjects so I am not sure where you are getting your information from.


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