Gove abandons plans to drop GCSEs

First published on Thu, February 07, 2013.

Education minister Michael Gove gave a statement to the Commons this morning (Thursday 7th), announcing that proposed plans to replace GCSE exams with the English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBCs) will no longer go ahead. The move is part of a compromise deal between the Conservatives and their Lib Dem coalition partners.

It is these new qualifications – not the EBacc, a performance indicator which measures the percentage of students in a school who achieve grades A*-C in five core subjects – that will be abandoned. Under Gove’s reforms, 14-year-olds would have begun to study for EBCs in English, Maths and science from 2015, with the first exams in 2017. The first EBC exams in history, geography and languages would have been taken in 2018.

These pupils will now sit GCSEs instead. Gove’s plans have been met with widespread criticism, both within and beyond the Conservative Party. Last week, the Education Select Committee issued a report which criticised Gove for “trying to do too much, too quickly” and warned that there was little evidence that EBCs would be “more successful than GCSEs in addressing underachievement or in narrowing the attainment gap between the most disadvantaged students and their peers”. Ofqual and teachers unions have also exerted pressure on Gove to stem the pace of reform.

However, the move may not prove to be the radical U-turn many commentators are suggesting, and GCSEs will still undergo a radical overhaul by 2015. For example, the modular system will be scrapped in favour of one examination sat at the end of the two-year period and Gove is set to unveil a new ‘knowledge based’ National Curriculum.

League tables, which are currently based on attainment in the EBacc subjects, will now be extended to measure attainment in eight subjects – potentially including creative subjects. This does not mean that creative subjects will be included as one of the EBacc core subjects, as many had hoped, but it does mean that schools will have less incentive to drop them from the curriculum. Creative & Cultural Skills are amongst those who have criticised the Government’s plans not to include creative subjects as a ‘sixth pillar’ of the EBacc performance indicator.

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