Planned switch from GCSEs to Baccalaureate in England 'abandoned'


Michael Gove: "My idea... was just one reform too many at this time"

Related Stories

Plans to scrap GCSEs in key subjects in England and replace them with English Baccalaureate Certificates are being abandoned by the government.

The reversal was announced by the education secretary in the Commons, alongside curriculum changes.

Michael Gove said plans for the new exams had been "a bridge too far".

He had wanted to bring in what he said were more rigorous exams in some core subjects from 2015, but faced criticism from MPs and teachers.

Labour's shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg told MPs the announcement was a "humiliating climb-down" and exam policy a "total shambles".

The change means plans for the new qualification, announced in September, are being shelved, while GCSEs are retained, despite having been previously condemned by the education secretary.

The reversal has refocused the spotlight on the future form of GCSEs .

Grade inflation

It comes after a damning report by the Commons education committee which said the changes would mean "too much, too fast" and could threaten exam quality.

The new English Baccalaureate Certificate was billed by the government as having a tougher syllabus, with exams at the end of the course in a return to an O-level style traditional qualification.

Mr Gove told MPs: "Last September we outlined plans for changes to GCSE qualifications designed to address the grade inflation, dumbing down and loss of rigour in those examinations.

"We have consulted on those proposals and there is now a consensus that the system needs to change.

"But one of the proposals I put forward was a bridge too far."

Specifically, he said that proposal had been to let just one exam board set a GCSE for each English Baccalaureate Certificate. The idea behind this was to stop what he had called a "race to the bottom" where he said exam boards might compete to offer easier qualifications.

However, he also re-stated his belief in changes already being made to GCSEs, where there has been a switch to exams being taken at the end of two years rather than in stages, fewer re-sits and a reduced role for coursework.

Start Quote

'A humiliating U-turn' by Michael Gove is how Labour describes what they're calling the #EBacctrack. 'A tweak' says the education secretary's former deputy, fellow Tory Nick Gibb. ”

End Quote

And he said a tougher GCSE in some key subjects would come in from autumn 2015.

Liberal Democrats had opposed the introduction of the English Baccalaureate Certificate, believing they would bring in a two-tier system, which would damage teenagers who were not academic enough to pass the new exams.

A senior Whitehall source told the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson a range of factors conspired to bring an end to the plans, including opposition from the regulator and concerns that introducing a single exam board for each subject could be challenged in the courts under European Union rules.

Lib Dem sources indicated they regarded this as a coalition decision not a policy victory for their party, our correspondent added.

In the Commons, Labour's Stephen Twigg said: "It's simple really, before he announces a bright idea wouldn't it be sensible to check it first with the deputy prime minister".

'Red light'

The proposals for the new qualifications were met by intense criticism from teaching unions when they were first floated last June and then set out in detail in September.

The original plan had been for the first candidates to start courses in 2015 and take the new-look exams two years later, initially in three core subject areas - English, maths and sciences - with an extension later to history, geography and languages.

Exam reform



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

"Harder syllabus", very little coursework, all exams at the end

New national curriculum, reduced coursework but GCSE brand retained. Most exams taken after two years rather than at the end of modules. Less structured, more essay-style questions

Exam board

Multiple exam boards

One exam board per subject, awarded as franchises

Retain multiple boards


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

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

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


Core subjects (English, sciences, maths) compulsory. Students can choose a range of language, technology, humanities and arts subjects

Focus on core subjects: initially English, science, maths, followed by languages, history and geography

New GCSEs in English, maths, sciences, history and geography.


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

Not defined

Percentage of pupils in a school reaching an attainment threshold in English and maths. Average point score based on a range of eight GCSEs

There was a plan to have one exam board for each subject.

Doubts had been raised about the feasibility of awarding the franchises for subjects within the timetable set for the new qualifications, which were to be taught from autumn 2015.

Exam regulator Ofqual had written to Mr Gove suggesting this should not go ahead at the same time as the other changes planned for GCSEs and A-levels.

Last week a report from the Commons Education Select Committee issued a "red light" warning to the government, urging it to slow down and rethink its proposed changes to GCSEs and the exam system.

The cross-party report warned the proposed changes were being rushed and risked damaging the exam system.

MPs' criticisms had been echoed by teachers and head teachers' unions.

In the Commons, Mr Gove also announced changes to the performance measures used in school league tables.

There will be a new eight-subject measure of GCSEs, including English and maths, three subjects out of sciences, languages, history and geography and three other subjects, such as art, music or RE.

This will in effect be a wider version of the English Baccalaureate measure, which some have criticised as being too narrow, although that measure will remain.

Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the government had "slammed on the brakes just before the cliff face".

He said it would have been impossible to implement what had been planned.

The announcements on abandoning the new qualifications come alongside the publication of changes to the curriculum for primary and secondary schools.

The English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBC) was a key part of Michael Gove's plans to shake up England's exams system and "restore rigour" to it.

It hit the buffers for political, practical and commercial reasons and in the face of strong opposition, not least from exams regulator Ofqual and MPs on the education select committee.

The idea of an exam which was not for everyone was very unpopular with the Liberal Democrats and with teaching unions, who all warned of a move to a "two-tier" system or a return to the divisions of O-levels and CSEs.

Pupils were due to begin studying for EBCs in some key subjects in 2015. They won't now, but other changes remain, such as the move towards exams at the end of two years rather than being taken in chunks and towards fewer resits.

Read Angela Harrison's analysis

Mr Gove has already set out principles arguing there should be a clear set of core information pupils should learn in areas such as maths, science, history and literature.

Programmes of study in almost all subjects except for primary English, maths and science have been slimmed down.

'Entirely wrong'

Earlier, Labour's shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "This is a humiliating climb-down for Michael Gove but more important than that it is really good news for education.

"The proposal risked turning the clock back to the kind of exam system that we had when I was at school that wrote a lot of young people off at 14 but it also crowded out a lot of very important parts of the curriculum."

The general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), Christine Blower, said she was delighted Mr Gove had made a U-turn.

"We have amassed a very big coalition of our own around the fact that introducing the Ebacc was entirely the wrong thing to do, certainly in the kind of timescale that Mr Gove had in mind, so we think this is a very good move and we're very pleased."


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
  • Comment number 822.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 821.

    817 Matthew
    Thanks,although even if I shared your optimism about the future of well qualified teachers who can also teach,there are still many yearsa of the cross over which is a wilderness or should I say "no man's (teachers) land"
    Obviously industry in general wont just be sitting back letting the education profession mop up all the good ones,remember they will be upping their salaries too!

  • Comment number 820.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 819.

    When I look back to my O levels in 1984, I had migraines throughout that summer and was forced to resit many of them. If I was doing them today chances are I would have already attained the pass mark before the exam day arrived. My concern is not with the way GCSEs are attained, but with them being so easy. Having done several recently I am in a position to compare, and today's seem very basic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 818.

    Despite this latest U-Turn by the government this minister still believes that eh knows best and intends to press ahead with yet more changes. It has not occurred to him that if he offered a stable environment where teaching professionals could focus on actually teaching their pupils we might just see a step change on quality. But no the I know best' approach is all that Gove knows!

  • rate this

    Comment number 817.


    Yes the teachers or lack thereof are a major problems, perhaps making degrees tougher in future in the may solve this, as for the 5 to 6 years, I am referring to year 8 to 12 if you get rid of 6th form and make the school leaving age 18, as for year 7 that would be the integration year, still a few fun and games, but it would prepare the kids for the next 5/6 years of hard study.

  • rate this

    Comment number 816.

    And we wonder why politicians sometimes seem so bloody-minded in pursuing policies regardless of the public viewpoint, when revising one's policies is regularly portrayed as a negative, a "humiliating u-turn".

  • rate this

    Comment number 815.

    I'm glad they aren't being scrapped completely. Teachers/students already have to put up with constant changes, but some change still needs to happen.

    I'm not a massive fan of the retake culture. I remember at school, the genuinely smart kids were getting As in their first attempts, but the not-so-smart kids were eventually getting the same results due to constant retakes. Not very fair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 814.

    Testing ruins learning. It only aligns the curriculum and teaching to achieve a score on the day! Intelligence is not needed just a memory, no social life and a fear of failing your parents! Think you will find people who can adapt will be successful not those who know facts. Or if you are A Gove\Wilshaw coalition a combination of both! Revolution not evolution needed!

  • rate this

    Comment number 813.

    808 Matthew
    Agreed,but as you said earlier,"please answer my?"
    Also,sorry to be thick or misunderstand,but where do you get your 5/6 years of study from!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 812.

    Politicians are mainly concerned with preserving their existence. They pronounce on education policy without any understanding or expertise in the meaning or delivery of the subject. The majority of teachers and educationists have a pretty good grasp of the subject and are motivated by the welfare and development of their pupils and not by personal gain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 811.

    796 elementord

    I totally agree. I am more older than you will believe, but when i did O and A levels, we were graded in percentile bands. It worked then as a measure of how you stood in relation to all your peers.

    I am still waiting for someone, hopefully in the profession, to take up my earlier point about the difference between teaching and education. I fear that you are all teachers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 810.


    You really have a problem with women, don't you!

    Boys tend to prefer science - it often starts with bonding with their dads about how things work.

    Many girls are put off engineering and physics, because they don't feel welcome in a male environment. It's still very sexist - a nightmare for any woman trying to manage say a team of men on an oil rig or a large construction site.

  • rate this

    Comment number 809.

    I am tired of politics playing with education STOP IT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 808.

    Seriously your points are well taken, but we have to prepare our future generation(s) to represent our country in all field’s, whether it is in Science, literature, politics, economics, innovation and so on…We now live in a Global culture, it is fundamental that we do this for the future security of the nation, after all why should rich kids from private schools only represent us?

  • rate this

    Comment number 807.

    GCSEs need to be far more rigorous. I taught for over 40 years and during that period saw the standard in education (and behaviour) fall dramatically. Many children expect to be 'spoon fed' and many teachers have complied with this to try to get them through their exams. A restructuring of the whole education system is needed if we are to remain in the top 20 of the of the world league table.

  • rate this

    Comment number 806.


    Perhaps you could explain why it is that in the science subjects - where exam answers can only be right or wrong ( i.e not manipulated ) - boys still dominate the university places. So girls have, miraculously, only become much smarter than boys in the subjects that are open to examiner 'interpretation' and/or coursework puzzling.... or not !

  • rate this

    Comment number 805.

    802 Matthew
    As said ref 794,and the teachers!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 804.

    Bring back the old School Certificate, the one before O-Levels, where you had to pass English, Maths, a science, a foreign language, and another subject to get a pass at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 803.

    @801 Tom Carter

    They need to get qualifications relevant to work, not just study what they fancy and hope someone will employ them.

    Our office in London is full of foreigners, because we can't get qualified UK staff - we've got the vacancies for them.


Page 1 of 42


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.