GCSE reform: Reaction to English Baccalaureate scrapping

Education Secretary Michael Gove has scrapped his proposals to replace some GCSE exams with a new English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBC).

Since the plans were announced, there has been strong criticism from teachers, unions and the exam regulator. There was more reaction ahead of Mr Gove's official announcement to MPs.

UK press

New Statesman blog:

"The education secretary's decision to bow to his critics and retain GCSEs is, in a competitive field, the most abject retreat yet from a coalition minister.

"It looks like rumours of the death of GCSEs have been greatly exaggerated.

"Gove, who arrogantly lectured the education establishment for months on the need to scrap GCSEs, has been taught a lesson in the perils of hasty reform."

The Independent:

"The U-turn represents a political defeat for a minister seen by some Tory MPs as a potential successor to David Cameron... the first major setback for Michael Gove, who has become the darling of Conservative backbench MPs by imposing traditionalist education reforms with crusading zeal."

The Guardian:

"In what will be seen as a humiliating reverse for the education secretary, for whom the shake-up of exams for 16-year-olds was a major chunk of his agenda, Gove will make a statement to the Commons.

"Gove's breakneck and highly ideological programme... has won him many fans within the Conservative party and the media, albeit arguably less so in the country at large. But such an unexpected and public U-turn on a major policy will be seen as a definite blow to the Gove brand."

The Times:

"Michael Gove was accused of a humiliating climbdown after it emerged that he had been forced to abandon his flagship plan to scrap GCSEs.

"After opposition from the Liberal Democrats, the education secretary will admit defeat in a Commons statement today, telling MPs that GCSEs will stay and be rewritten and restructured."

Reaction on Twitter

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg:

"Looks like a major U-turn by Michael Gove on GCSE reform following select committee report and Labour-led Commons debate".

Educational campaigner and blogger Fiona Millar:

"EBC U-turn; so much time and energy wasted on a policy clearly not thought through. Must be big questions about how Gove runs DfE [the Department for Education]".

Other reaction

Parent Denise Allison, from Sussex:

"My son is in Year 8 and selected his options for GCSE just last week. We considered whether to weight his choices to incorporate the Ebacc or EBC and felt that there was not enough confidence in the new qualification. He therefore chose subjects that he enjoys which would not have achieved overall EBC status.

"Thankfully we were correct. Many students will have taken the EBC route and may now need to rethink their selections if possible. This will cause unnecessary additional pressure on students, teachers and parents. Overall, we are actually in favour of the Ebacc as my stepdaughter studied for an International Baccalaureate, but rushing a major change is never good."

Dr Anthony Seldon, head of Wellington College, Crowthorne, Berkshire:

"I'm not sorry because it wasn't going to work. Mr Gove is really trying hard to try and increase opportunities for young people, regardless of backgrounds, to give them serious academic exams and academic options rather than dumb down exams in subjects he thinks are less important to university and to society. So you've got to say this is a very brave and forthright education secretary who has the best of intentions.

"But I think this particular programme he came up with was clearly flawed in the way he was doing it so quickly and he wasn't carrying key stakeholders along with him. I think that there were a number of problems with it, such as excluding the arts."

Ron Munson, head of Taverham High School, Norwich:

"We've got a man here who wakes up in the morning and decides how he's going to change things again. I think it's a bit disingenuous to the children who are doing GCSEs at the moment to say they're not serious academic exams.

"They work really hard for those and I'm just a bit concerned that these exams are going to be their future - they stay with them for the rest of their life. We've got to think really properly about what they're going to sit before we start changing them."

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT union:

"The English Baccalaureate Certificates were always a distraction. The certificates may have gone but the English Baccalaureate remains as a measure in the performance league tables. This will, therefore, continue to be used to narrow the curriculum, reducing opportunities for children and young people, and to force schools into being taken over by predatory private providers.

"Whilst this government's education policies remain in place, ruining the life chances for children and young people and robbing them of their rights and entitlements, there is little cause for celebration."

Conservative MP and former teacher Andrew Percy:

"In fairness to Michael, when he made the statement a few months ago about this, you know he faced quite a lot of criticism. I wasn't exactly that supportive of it myself. But he did... stand up and say that you know we're going to consult. There's going to be a genuine consultation and we'll listen to representations.

"And I think as I say, it's a sign of strength when the minister can listen and change their mind."

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL):

"This is an extremely welcome decision. ASCL has never believed that GCSE is beyond repair and has been advocating this course of action for many months.... The reformed GCSE must be rigorous but it also must be relevant to students of all ability levels, whether they are going straight into work, a high-level apprenticeship or to university."

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers:

"Michael Gove has for once listened to sense. The English Baccalaureate Certificates were universally condemned by everyone from the teaching profession to bodies representing the arts, sport, business, technical and design groups and the education select committee.

"This is a victory for all those who have campaigned against this ill-thought out reform to GCSEs. The education secretary must now learn a lesson from this fiasco and consult with those who know far more than he appears to do about education."

Sally Coates, principal, Burlington Danes Academy, London:

"It is welcome news for the profession because it is a sensible compromise. It shows the government has listened to the consultation, listened to the views of teachers, listened to the views of [exam regulator] Ofqual and has decided to keep the brand GCSE. The GCSE does need to be refocused. The standard of GCSEs does need to be more rigorous. The government were right in the desire to do that. There was probably no need to change the brand name... I think that would confuse members of the public, employers and parents."

Parent Jennifer Fowlie, from Chester, Cheshire:

"I am a parent of three children and have been very concerned about the changes proposed. My eldest child goes to high school next year - I'm concerned about the whole thing.

"I agree tougher marking should occur to reduce the "dumbing down" accusations on results day. However, I am concerned that a lot of grade results will now depend on how well retained information is - how good the memories are - instead of how the children can apply their knowledge.

"In universities, assignments and coursework make up a large chunk of the degree with only one compulsory exam. Why should GCSEs be any different?"

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