Michael Gove lays out reasons for scrapping GCSEs

Posted on 17 Sep 2012

Along with a number of key reforms, Education Secretary Michael Gove today announced plans to replace GCSE exams with an English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBacc) which will commence in September 2015 and include English, maths, the sciences, a humanities subject and a language.

Michael Gove noted that, the GCSE exam was designed with the best intentions to broaden the numbers engaging in academic study and thereby improve the British education system.

However, he added that “the GCSE was conceived – and designed – for a different age and a different world.”

“We know that the record increases in performance at GCSE have not been matched by the same level of improvement in learning – while pass rates have soared we have fallen down the international education league tables,” said Mr Gove.

He said that employers and academics had become less confident in the worth of GCSE passes and fear that students lack the skills for the modern workplace and the knowledge for advanced study.

“We know – most recently – and most tellingly – that changes made to GCSEs under the last Government – specifically the introduction of modules and the expansion of coursework in schools – further undermined the credibility of exams – leaving young people without the rigorous education they deserved.”

According to an OECD report release recently, in the years up until 2010, the UK education system still had not been reformed enough to keep pace with the best in the world.

Changing the league table system

Gove said that said that the education system and risk of ridicule had forced even the most idealistic professionals to teach to the test and encouraged heads to offer children the softest possible options.

Gove said the Government would aim to end the competition between exam boards which has led to “a race to the bottom” with different boards offering easier courses or assistance to teachers in a corrupt effort to massage up pass rates.

“It is time for the race to the bottom to end. It is time to tackle grade inflation and dumbing down. It is time to raise aspirations and restore rigour to our examinations,” said Mr Gove.

The changes will require a fresh consideration of how schools are held accountable and Mr Gove promised that the Government would consult widely on replacements for existing league tables.

“We want to remove controlled assessment and coursework from core subjects. These assessment methods have – in all too many cases – corrupted the fair testing of all students. We want to ensure that children are tested transparently on what they – and they alone – can do at the end of years of deep learning, he said”

The Government will invite exam boards to offer wholly new qualifications in the core subject areas – English, maths, the sciences, history, geography and languages.

Ofqual, as the independent exams regulator, will assess all the exams put forward by the exams boards. From those which Ofqual accept, the winner will be the board which offers the course which best meets the criteria and standards of the world’s best educational systems.

A new qualification

“We plan to call these new qualifications – in these core academic subjects – English Baccalaureate Certificates – recognising that they are the academic foundation which is the secure base on which further study, vocational learning or a satisfying apprenticeship can be built,” said Gove. “Success in English, maths, the sciences, a humanities subject and a language will mean the student has the full English Baccalaureate.

“Some will argue that more rigorous qualifications in these subjects will inevitably lead to more students failing. But we believe that fatalism is indicative of a dated mind-set; one that believes in fixed abilities that great teaching can do little to change,” he said.

Even as exams become more rigorous and the passing bar raised, Gove said he believed that over time the UK would catch up with the highest performing nations in education and that a higher proportion of children will clear the bar than now.

For students that choose not to sit these new qualifications at age 16, provisions will be made to help them make progress subsequently – and we anticipate some will secure EBacc Certificates at the age of 17 or 18.

“These reforms are radical – and so we will consult widely,” said Gove. “Their introduction will require careful preparation. So we propose first teaching of new certificates in English, maths and the sciences in September 2015 with other subjects following.”

Stephen Twigg, Shadow Education Secretary, said that the changes were “out of date and out of touch,” adding that “GCSEs should include skills as well as knowledge.”