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 536.

    Gove is a bull in a china shop and so far has rejected all expert advice ofr calls to stop and think before acting. raise the standard of the GCSE, make it one for each subject, even reduce or abolish modules although they are effective for the less academic students."Not thinking things through" is this coalition's trademark and too often costly amendmends or turn rounds have to be made.

  • rate this

    Comment number 535.

    Extraordinary that all the education changes are being implemented by politicians(under leadership of Gove) who have no experience in the profession...never mind that they additionally were never part of the system as younsters. With this lack of insight, experience and compassionate understanding, is it any wonder that their action is so out of touch?

  • rate this

    Comment number 534.

    Report says changes are needed but condem government approach.

    Government says "Ah, but the report says changes are needed and we ARE making changes".

    Classic political response from the DoE. I'd say they are morons but that is insulting to morons. Role on 2015 when they can be turfed out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 533.

    Mr Gove is a like some people that work in HR departments - always tinkering and trying to find things to do to keep them in a job and meanwhile wrecking everything else in the process. There must be a call for his urgent resignation. He knows nothing of education, does not respect the teaching profession - there should be a mass walk out of all pupils, students and teachers supported by public.

  • rate this

    Comment number 532.

    Gove is a complete and utter nut case - his incompetence is astounding. He has made a disaster out of everything from School Direct, PGCE support, pitiful bursaries for bright teachers, encouraging men into primary schools (no incentives given), messing around with curriculum yet again in primaries and secondaries and tampering with GCSEs. He needs to start nursery and go back to learning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 531.

    Of course MPs condemn scrapping them, it's common sense. GCSEs are a total waste of time as a means of measuring knowledge. They (GCSEs) don't encourage kids to think for themselves, are too formulaic and are open to abuse from unscrupulous target chasers. Bring back the 'O' levels - they worked and they required effort and sustained study to achieve. (I have 10 of these, by the by).

  • rate this

    Comment number 530.

    What I saw when I did my GCSEs in 2008-09 was that especially in science we were told 'just learn this formula' or 'this does that' no explanation of why. Thats why I really struggled with my a-levels.
    I think the curriculum needs to be overhauled so the students get a deeper understanding of what they are learning, And stop allowing biology specialists to teach physics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 529.

    I helped a student derive the formulae for the sum to n terms of arithmetic & geometric series. Not too difficult, but she told me she was given the formula at school without any proof as usual. This is ridiculous. Diff' calculus is glossed over and one is expected to just "believe" that sin(A+B) = sinAcosB + cosAsinB etc etc.

    No wonder students don't understand it. They were never shown it !

  • rate this

    Comment number 528.

    Are there any politicians of the three 'main' parties with any common sense? It would make far more sense to me for government to consult first before coming up with stupid ideas that clearly will not work, relying on civil servants to dictate policy when they too have little experience of what is really needed. This, again, merely shows that party politics DOES NOT WORK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 527.

    Has anybody actually asked Businesses what they want from the educational system? Any government can do what they want but it's Business that turns the output from the countrys educational system in to finactional generation, tax paying, worth. Without that we might as all give up now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 526.

    16. Waldo "Sorts the wheat from the chaff"

    Says a lot about someone when they refer to children as "chaff"

  • rate this

    Comment number 525.

    Dont you just love Michael Gove - Head Boy with no brains

  • rate this

    Comment number 524.

    @519 "we should hear more teachers"
    Headteachers' organisations; Independant school heads; Cambridge professors, other universities and teaching unions ALL oppose these proposals publicly, problem is Gove doesn't listen

  • rate this

    Comment number 523.

    I agree with the one exam board idea and ending the practice of resits, however I do worry that the government have once again forgotten the students who are less academic. Creativity and artiistic talent are undervalued enough it would be a very boring society if we were all the same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 522.


    If you think that subjects like the arts and music are irrelevant to a person's education all I can say is that you are a philistine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 521.

    It used to be said that those that can't do teach.

    Clearly in the case of Gove those who can't even teach become Education Secretary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 520.

    Has Gove discovered yet that degree`s must be worth nothing too since they too are modular.

  • rate this

    Comment number 519.

    We have to hear more teachers and people in the profession speaking out. Gove continues to wreak havoc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 518.

    Anybody who runs a real baccalaureate course, or who has completed one, should be suing the government for pinching the word and devaluing it totally.
    'Find a quality word, hit it with a hammer. Crucify the whole inside, sell it for a tanner. The word was worshipped from afar on giant packs of cornflakes. The word was used to cure the blues, bad breath and toothache.'

  • rate this

    Comment number 517.

    The exam system does need to be more demanding following the legacy of the neo marxist policies of New Labour.However, giving the reorganization of the system to a Murdoch trained, arrogant, bullying, anachronistic journalist wasn't a helpful way of going about it in my opinion.


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