‘Nasty’ Nick and the DfE soap opera over modular GCSEs

30th July 2016 at 10:00
Nick Gibb adult GCSE
Will we see an introduction of adult GCSEs? It depends who ends up on top in the Whitehall soap opera, writes TES FE editor Stephen Exley

As education secretary, Michael Gove had no qualms about being demonised by his enemies within “the Blob”. And his apparent treachery in stabbing his pro-Brexit ally Boris Johnson in the back in the Conservative leadership contest has done little to quell his reputation as the pantomime villain of Westminster.

But the curious case of the adult GCSE has opened up an intriguing little soap opera within Whitehall, centring on a handful of the figures who dominated the Department for Education during the coalition era.

Let’s rewind to 2012, when Mr Gove announced the end of GCSEs as we knew them, with the much-derided modular approach being replaced by a traditional linear programme. A key ally in this was Nick Gibb (pictured), reappointed schools minister this month to oversee the continuation of the overarching policy thrust.

Following Mr Gove’s move to the Ministry of Justice, Dame Sally Coates, one of his favoured headteachers, was brought in to review education in prisons. And one recommendation in her report that largely slipped under the radar was arguably the most surprising: the return of a modular GCSE. It appears that while both Dame Sally and Mr Gove were passionately against this approach in schools, they could see its benefits for older learners, not least those in prison.

But it seems that the main obstacle in the way of this potentially monumental U-turn is one Mr Gibb. Dame Sally was left in no doubt after a meeting with Mr Gibb prior to the EU referendum that no support would be forthcoming. But the new apprenticeships and skills minister, Rob Halfon, says he’s prepared to give the matter due consideration.

So what next? The government approved the Coates review in principle, so in theory adult GCSEs are still on the table. The only hope for the policy may lie in the ministerial reshuffle. Could the latest education secretary, Justine Greening, be willing to ruffle a few feathers? And will another former education minister, Liz Truss, who has since followed in Mr Gove’s footsteps to the Ministry of Justice, kick up a fuss?

It appears unlikely. But, if the twists and turns since 23 June have taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected.


This is an article from the 29 July edition of TES. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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