GCSEs: Gove pledges 'challenging' exam changes


Michael Gove: "Young people deserve an education system that can compete with the best in the world"

Related Stories

An overhaul of GCSEs in England has been announced by Education Secretary Michael Gove to help pupils in England "compete with the best in the world".

From 2015, GCSEs will move from coursework to exams at the end of two years and will be graded from 8 to 1, rather than A* to G.

"We need to reform our examination system to restore public confidence," Mr Gove told the House of Commons.

Labour's Stephen Twigg attacked "shallow" changes lacking in evidence.

Mr Twigg accused Mr Gove of "cutting back on re-sits, while affording himself a fourth attempt at GCSE reform".

Mary Bousted, leader of the ATL teachers' union, said the constant change in exams was turning pupils into "Mr Gove's guinea pigs".


Head teachers' leader Russell Hobby said the plans for a "more rigorous exam to the existing GCSE contain merit" but warned against an over-hasty implementation. "We need to take time to get any new assessment system right."

Wales and Northern Ireland are keeping GCSEs, but so far are not adopting the changes proposed for England.

Ofqual head Glenys Stacey says: "We want to see qualifications that are more stretching for the most able students, using assessments that really test knowledge, understanding and skills."

There is no sign of a change in name to I-level for the English exams - as had been rumoured.

Key changes from autumn 2015
  • Changes will initially be for nine core GCSE subjects
  • Grading by numbers 8-1 rather than by the current letters A*-G
  • No more modular courses, instead full exams taken at the end of two years
  • Controlled assessments (coursework done under exam conditions) will be scrapped
  • Exams to be based on a more stretching, essay-based system
  • Pass mark to be pushed higher

The reforms will initially apply to a group of core subjects - English language and literature, maths, physics, chemistry, biology, combined science, history and geography.

'Whole book'

Hundreds of thousands of pupils will begin studying these revised GCSEs from autumn 2015 and the first candidates to take the exams will be in summer 2017.

Apart from exceptions such as practical experiments in science, there will be a shift towards results depending fully on exams taken at the end of two years. It will mean removing the 25% of marks in history, English literature and geography that are currently allowed for controlled assessments.


The GCSE changes being announced will only apply to pupils in England.

Scotland has its own exam system, but Wales and Northern Ireland also use GCSEs.

Wales is planning its own regulatory shake-up, but has already said it has no intention of changing from the GCSE brand.

Wit no sign of a change in the name of the new exams in England, there are likely to be questions about how universities and employers will understand the different forms of GCSE.

Grading will be by numbers rather than letters - with 8 at the top and 1 at the bottom. The pass mark will be pushed higher, with claims it will compare with the highest-performing school systems, such as Finland and Shanghai.

But the National Union of Teachers said Finland used a high level of the type of student assessment being removed from exams in England.

The new GCSEs will push for a more stretching, essay-based exam system, reminiscent of O-levels, taken by pupils until the late 1980s.

Mr Gove told MPs that previous course specifications "were too vague" and had caused "suspicion and speculation that some exam boards were 'harder' than others".

History will require more study of British history. Pupils will have to write an in-depth study of a 25-to-50-year period within a range of eras stretching from 500AD to the present day.

There will be a less prominent world history section and pupils will be asked to study a theme such as changes in politics, religion or culture across the medieval, early modern and modern eras.

In English literature, exam questions will be designed to ensure that pupils have read the whole book.

The course content will include at least one play by Shakespeare, a selection of work by the Romantic poets, a 19th Century novel, a selection of poetry since 1850 and a 20th Century novel or drama.

For both English language and literature, digital texts are excluded.

Maths will promote the idea of developing independent problem-solving skills, rather than setting types of questions that can be rehearsed.

Education Minister Elizabeth Truss said: "We do need to start competing against those top performing countries in the world, because for too long we've pretended that students' results are getting better, when all that's been happening is the exams have been getting easier."

Brian Lightman, leader of the ASCL head teachers' union, said his greatest concern was about the proposed syllabus changes. "Simply making exams harder does not guarantee higher standards or mean that students will be prepared for a job. The curriculum should stretch and challenge the highest achieving students but it must also engage and motivate those who struggle at the other end."


This is the latest stage in Mr Gove's drive to reconfigure the exam system.

Last year, Mr Gove announced plans for the scrapping of GCSEs and their replacement with English Baccalaureate Certificates, with each subject to be set by a single exam board.

This re-branding was scrapped, with GCSEs to be retained but reformed instead.

NUT general secretary Christine Blower said the the government's approach was "rushed".

"If you did this by consensus, by actually talking to the profession and understanding how best to examine things, we would be in a much better position."

Start Quote

Simply making exams harder does not guarantee higher standards or mean that students will be prepared for a job”

End Quote Brian Lightman ASCL general secretary

Chris Keates, leader of the Nasuwt teachers' union, attacked the government's claim that the GCSE was a "broken qualification" and said it had "proved itself to be a robust and reliable qualification".

She accused the government of driving an "inaccurate and ideologically-driven media attack on the qualification".

The latest plans will be put out to consultation over the summer, with a timetable that will see exam boards producing courses to be accredited by Ofqual for teaching in autumn 2015.

The prospect of different forms of GCSEs in England, and Wales and Northern Ireland has raised the question of how they will be distinguished from each other.

The CBI said employers would want to be "crystal clear about the differences to eliminate any confusion".

Exam reform in England*

Current GCSE New GCSE

* Wales and Northern Ireland are keeping GCSES, but will not adopt the changes outlined above. Scotland has its own system.


Modular courses with coursework plus exams. Exams taken throughout the course as modules are completed. However, from Sep 2012, coursework and modules were reduced or reformed

Modular courses scrapped, new course content, reduced coursework but GCSE brand retained. Controlled assessments scrapped. Most exams taken after two years rather than at the end of modules. More demanding essay-style questions

Exam board

Multiple exam boards

Multiple exam boards


Two year course period; some exams can be taken at the end of each module

Exams taken at the end of two year period, with first exams in summer 2017


The existing form of GCSE will continue for subjects outside the core group of new GCSEs

Reforms will be initially applied to core subjects - English, maths, sciences, history and geography - with others to follow


A* - G

Numbers 8 (highest) to 1 (lowest). Pass mark to be pushed higher


Schools measured by pupils achieving five A*-C passes including English and maths

Still under consultation, but under proposals could be based on the number of pupils in a school reaching an attainment threshold in English and maths. Average point score would be based on a range of eight GCSEs


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 1115.

    The reason for the 8 to 1 grading is that it ...allows for the addition of grades above A* if exams get easier ...

    That has to be the dumbest reasoning ever. If they start adding extra grades every few years, employers won't have a clue what's going on & won't be able to compare candidates of different ages. Grade to the curve to standardise results - it's the easiest way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1114.

    • 155.
    155. Ferafestiva. What a waste of time!!! And how on earth does reading a WS play prepare you for life in the big wide world? Gove is a failure who is simply digging a bigger hole for himself. He will no doubt go down in history as a political joke, ie the kids who get the lowest grade will be called Govies!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1113.


    "This is Gove trying to drive down marks so that less people go to university"

    Improving rigour to prevent dumbing down and making exams harder to stop grade inflation may well mean that less Thickies go on a Mickey Mouse course at a 3rd rate Polytechnic (sorry "University") but that's a good thing and exactly what we need from our education sectrary.

    Who can possibly oppose this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1112.

    1089 "Unions are a joke in this country, they do not require approval, they do as they are told by the labour party and whoever else is in power" indeed, that's why Dave is in charge of the Labour party and not Ed. Oh, no, hang on... Obviously there was the glorious destruction of wildcat Unionism in 1980 but they still remain a potent force for vest interest badnesss in society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1111.


    Anyone who thinks that you can learn anyone from these "people" who are "running" the country ... are quite mistaken

    They don't care about you

    They only want to keep their power, position, their interviews with big journalists...and to get re-elected

    Think again about what you really want for your children

    Courage and self-respect, you will not find here

  • rate this

    Comment number 1110.

    1. What is all this about students not reading all of the book they are studying? I have never heard of any school, student or class doing that.
    2. What is wrong with modular exams? These exams are supposed to test student understanding of a particular topic, not if they can remember everything for 2 years.
    3. Where are all of these illiterate teenagers i've been hearing about? Never met one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1109.

    If you are a young person on here, do not worry about some of the older generation claiming they were better educated and more intelligent. After all the by-product of that education has landed us in a nice long recession, a supposedly non-caring NHS, Teachers who cannot properly teach and so fourth. Education has been wrong for longer than GCSEs have been around.... :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 1108.

    Should probably try and incorporate more public speaking at an early age. Alot of people leaving school have a crippling fear of doing presentations. Too much pressure on failing and doing something wrong over expressing their opinion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1107.

    Just how insensitive of the education department to announce the new exam in the middle of the those children actually sitting them at this time. To say that they are easier and not up to standard gives out the message to them that they are not worth the paper they are written on, why couldn't they have waited until after they are all over. I have two grandchildren sitting them at this moment!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1106.

    How depressing that so many people on this page actually believe Mr Gove's depiction of the current GCSE English syllabus. Students are already required to study the whole text of a Shakepeare play and classic text. See for yourself on page 11 of a current English specification http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-4700-W-SP-14.PDF. English Literature has further demands. Facts, Mr Gove?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1105.

    My Daughter did her GCSE's last year, what she did seems to bare no relationship to the GCSE's being discussed.
    She had to read Romeo and Juliette all the way through, more then once, they also read Pride and Prejudice + a load of other books and poems. I saw some of the English Language questions she had to and they made the 'O' level I took seem simple.
    Also don't forget we had CSEs back then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1104.

    I think this is stupid! My sister is in year seven right now and she is already stressing about it! What ever the person who came up with this idea is not talking right, the GCSE's that the current year 11's take are already hard enough because I know, I am in my first year at collage. Thanks to the same person who came up with this has also made that I have to revise pieces of paper above my knee

  • rate this

    Comment number 1103.

    This is Gove trying to drive down marks so that less people go to university.

    He is a nasty piece of work.
    By that reasoning, Labour want more people to go to university so they will all have debts and be poor. They are a nasty piece of work too... no?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1102.

    I feel sorry for young folk. They try at school to get good grades. Politicans reduce standards to make themselves look good. Turning their education into a political volleyball. Makes a mockery of their efforts and all the stress that goes with doing the dreaded exams. Now we will go to the other extreme where you need to be Einstein to pass. Take it out of the politicans hands.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1101.

    maybe we should have only one exam board for consistency of results .

  • rate this

    Comment number 1100.

    The majority of teachers have been aware of the dumbing down of the exam system for some years. They have had to tow the political line regardless. It is a shame that they weren't more fully consulted on the new exam system by Mr Gove?

    I am hoping that the new system is robust and can find out what children know as well as what they don't know. With Mr Gove in charge I am not hopeful of this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1099.

    Pob can't resist meddling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1098.

    I too am a current GCSE student, and at my school I already study a Shakespeare play, two poetry modules and 18th century books amongst others. 'Coursework' was scrapped 3 years ago, and controlled assessments are essay based questions. As for the maths reforms, the modules he wishes to be undertaken on algebra etc are already being studied. As for grade boundaries, they are constantly made higher

  • rate this

    Comment number 1097.

    @1051 I refer you to Lily #847 and one or two far more recent posts from people who claim to have studied English GCSE (I daren't say who, I will simply be called a bully by those unable or unwilling to accept the truth). The fact is that many (not all of course but many) of those who have taken English GCSEs in recent years cannot write basic sentences. Just look at some posts on here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1096.

    If Grove wants to shake up and improve education, switching to exams for the same dated subjects is not it.

    English Literature / Geography / History are great, but they should come second to lessons that are missing, teaching children about society, finance, tax, families, government, law, food and health.

    Give them meaningful life studies first. The rest is optional "Further Education".


Page 61 of 116


More Education & Family stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.