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.

'Untenable'

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
    -5

    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
    +43

    Comment number 65.

    Why are the government simply not understanding that not all students are suited to classical academia and higher levels of education? They seem to be hellbent on setting up a system whereby the students with lower levels of ability are basically doomed: cutting vocational courses, re-introducing draconian and outdated standards, Classics back on the curriculum. Not every school is Eton, you know!

  • rate this
    +70

    Comment number 34.

    Education is simply too important to leave it to political dogma from either main party. Instead of re-arranging the deckchairs to suit their own political prejudices, the main thing they should be doing is to set up a panel of acknowleged experts whose sole purpose is to do an in-depth study of the world's best educational systems (like Finland), and propose how to implement unchanged in the UK.

  • rate this
    +34

    Comment number 32.

    I am no education expert or teacher etc etc...but we need someone other than Mr Gove running the education sector in the country! Apparently this man and his team have minimal experience of teaching, understanding child psychology etc. If this info is incorrect then someone please correct me.

  • rate this
    -34

    Comment number 16.

    To make things harder for students, here are my suggestions for both GCSE and A-levels:
    . 2-3 end of 2 year study exams (no more modular exams) per subject
    . No coursework
    . Students not allowed to resit papers just to get a better grade. Only times they are allowed to do so are when they never sat the original exam through illness or if they got a U grade.

    Sorts the wheat from the chaff.

 

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