Leighton Andrews welcomes GCSE 'U-turn' for England

Plans to scrap GCSEs in England would have added to growing differences with Wales

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Wales' Education Minister Leighton Andrews has welcomed a decision to retain GCSEs in England.

Plans to scrap the qualifications in key subjects there have been abandoned by the UK government.

The original English proposals would have added to growing differences with the Welsh system. The Welsh government had already committed to keeping GCSEs.

Both the Welsh and UK governments have said they are responding to concerns about standards.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland have historically shared the same exam systems, but recently there have been a number of changes in the three countries.

The Welsh government last month confirmed it would retain GCSEs, despite the plan to scrap them in key subjects in England.

However on Thursday UK Education Secretary Michael Gove said he was shelving plans for new English Baccalaureate qualifications and that GCSEs would stay.

He also announced changes to the way that performance is measured for school league tables.

The system will look at students' scores from eight subjects. A similar method is used in Wales to rank schools in performance bands, which also includes factors such as attendance, although Wales does not have league tables.

Mr Andrews told BBC Radio Five Live that his English counterpart appeared to be adopting Welsh government policies.

Michael Gove had decided that GCSEs in core subjects were going to change - he felt they weren't fit for purpose anymore, they had been dumbed-down and lacked rigor.

Instead he was going to introduce the English Baccalaureate - E-bac.

In Wales, all along, we were sticking with GCSEs, and parents were worried about how their children would compete against pupils taking the "gold standard" E-bac.

And now the E-bac has gone away.

Leighton Andrews has given this a really warm welcome and says Michael Gove - the "repentant sinner" comes back to the fold.

It is important to say that there are key differences between the two systems in Wales and England in future.

But there is one similarity that both ministers are making clear that what they want is to tackle standards and improve standards in their own ways.

"But I'm very pleased that England now, like Wales and like Northern Ireland, is keeping GCSEs and there appears to be recognition finally that GCSEs are good qualifications," he said.

"That's the view that we've always taken in Wales and they have taken in Northern Ireland as well."

'Rigour'

Other changes to the English system will remain, including a move towards exams at the end of two years of study instead of pupils picking up points which count towards their final grade through modular exams.

In a statement to the House of Commons, Mr Gove said the changes to GCSEs in England were meant to address "grade inflation, dumbing down and loss of rigour".

Mr Andrews said Wales will "probably keep" modules.

He added that a new GCSE in numeracy was being introduced in Wales as part of a recognition that young people need to be "job-ready" by the age of 16.

There would also be "much more of a focus on literacy" in a new English language qualification, he said.

The changes to the Welsh system follow a review which heard concerns about the quality of GCSE students' abilities at reading, writing and maths.

GCSEs will run alongside a revised and "more rigorous" Welsh Baccalaureate, Welsh ministers have said.

Published in November, the review by former college principal Huw Evans said some employers and universities do not think that a grade C at GCSE English, Welsh and maths is a reliable indicator of literacy and numeracy skills.

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