Education & Family

In quotes: Reaction to GCSE plans

Education Secretary Michael Gove plans to scrap GCSEs in secondary schools in England and return to O-level style exams.

Proposals include a single exam board and a different "more straightforward" exam, like the old CSE, for less academic pupils.

Here union leaders, teachers and parents give their views.

Brian Lightman, Association of School and College Leaders

It's very difficult to respond to announcements that are made via hearsay and leaks rather than through properly detailed and published proposals.

Image caption Students have been sitting GCSEs since 1988

I completely agree that our qualifications system needs to stand up to the best in other countries, but I cannot see how this proposal squares with the international research that says other successful countries don't have two-tier qualifications systems.

Without seeing the DfE [Department for Education] proposals, it is difficult to judge the impact. It seems that reintroducing a two-tier system, which was scrapped years ago because it ended up failing large numbers of young people, would be a hugely backward step.

O-levels were introduced for a small proportion of the population and CSEs were seen as an inferior qualification for the less able. I can't see how telling young people at age 14 that they aren't smart enough to sit a higher level GCSE will help to address social mobility and raising aspirations.

However, we need to see the actual proposals from the DfE before we can accurately predict what the consequences, intended and unintended, will be.

Russell Hobby, National Association of Head Teachers

I've seen it in the Daily Mail just like everyone else, and that's not a good way to introduce this to the profession.

I think a single exam board will remove a lot of concerns with the competition for easier exams. It isn't working and it's lowered trust in the system, so that's sensible. But I think the idea of an obviously two-tier exam system, the CSE/O-level split, doesn't sound like a good step forward to me.

I think it takes us back to a stage where we make choices about what a child is capable of very early in their school career. And that we're creating a qualification that potentially doesn't fulfil the need of employers in this day and age, where we need strong literacy, strong numeracy and science skills in almost every student.

We do need to demand high academic standards from as many lessons as possible, and I think it's the kind of core academic skills in literacy and numeracy, which actually are the truly vocational qualifications. But yes, children have different career paths and plans and some will be more inspired and engaged by a technical study, but that doesn't mean the technical and vocational qualifications are a lower exam to the GCSEs. They run in parallel.

I think this is clearly labelled as an exam for less clever children in the way it's been presented and I think that we will find that that switches people off in the way that CSEs switched people off very early on.

John Bangs, former NUT head of education

I think there is a case for reform. But I think that's to do with considered reform, setting up an independent review as the previous government did with the Tomlinson report, involving people in what we want from examinations.

But not doing headline-grabbing stuff saying that he believes current examination is broken beyond repair, incidentally casting thousands of young people into a state of despair because they're doing the exams at the moment, but doing it in a considered long-term way.

It may not get the headlines but it's the right thing for education.

Lord Baker, former education secretary

I think Michael Gove is absolutely right to reduce the competition between the exam boards for English, maths and science, which have undoubtedly been downgraded through competition. And that's going to be good.

Now he's a very radical reformer and is very interesting and rigorous at the heart of all his changes. What is important is to ensure that other subjects that are taken don't become second-class.

Engineering at 16 is just as demanding as maths and science.

That's what we have to ensure, and I think that will happen under the system that Michael Gove is going to introduce.

Geoff Barton, head teacher of King Edward VI school, Bury St Edmunds

What this government constantly tell us about is how we should look up to the international big boys with their national curricula and their tests and so on, and that's where we thought the direction of travel was.

Next thing we hear is that we're not going to have a national curriculum, which seems to me utterly bizarre, and a system, whereby we're going to start choosing children on ability for which papers they can sit when they're 13 or 14.

What we know about intelligence is that people improve and they develop, and we're in the business of motivating youngsters not de-motivating them.

Dr Wendy Piatt from The Russell Group

I certainly think the current system needs improving. The main problem is that some GCSEs simply don't stretch the very brightest.

In some ways it does make sense to have two types of exam - one for the very academic and one for people who are less academic who want to do something more applied, more vocational.

But there is a real danger here... there is a worry that at a very early age you will be pigeonholed and then put on a course that is not really suitable for you and you won't be able to change to the more academic course, which will open up opportunities to go to leading universities.

Exam board Cambridge Assessment

We support evidence-based educational reform and refute claims that competition has resulted in a "dumbing down" of standards.

Arbitrary changes to the exams systems and the multiple purposes that qualifications are now often expected to take on - accountability, driving up standards in schools, individual selection, and allowing greater access to education - have made it difficult to maintain standards over time.

There are challenges associated with a single qualification designed to recognise the achievement of all students - the current tiered system seeks to do that. However, we welcome a commitment to ensure that the 40% who do not achieve A*-C grades at GCSE are catered for and receive positive recognition of their achievement rather than simply 'failing' a GCSE.

Any reform requires measured and careful implementation and we will be engaging in the process when there is a consultation.

Jenny Cooper, parent

My concern is not that there would be a change, but that it might not be quick enough. Our oldest daughter takes her GCSEs next year.

I have another daughter two years behind her and a son in the year before that. With our other two children starting their courses before 2014, I wonder whether their exams will be devalued by the change.

If they really feel that we ought to be moving to the O-level style exams, then they really shouldn't be waiting two years to do it.

All the children taking the exams in the meantime are going to be taking papers like the old model of a car - devalued the minute people know a new model is coming out.

My daughters' school has already made a decision to only do the International Baccalaureate at sixth form because they know there is change coming to A-levels but they don't know what the change is yet and they don't want to risk the children's education.

For my children O-level style exams would be ideal. My children are academic. They are children who can learn a body of information and then use it. But the O-level style exams won't suit everyone.

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