GCSE reforms to continue despite U-turn on EBCs

15th February 2013 at 00:00
Gove ploughs on regardless of poor support evident in government consultation

The Westminster government is pushing ahead on key elements of its GCSE reforms, despite being told that they have very limited backing and are widely opposed in education circles, TES can reveal.

The education secretary sought last week to portray himself as a listening minister as he announced he was abandoning his plan for an exam board franchising system.

The move won Michael Gove widespread praise for heeding warnings from regulator Ofqual and other education experts.

But the main elements of his GCSE reform package remain in place, despite the dropping of the English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBC) title, even though the government's own official consultation shows they have little support.

Last September, the Department for Education asked for views on whether the requirements for a C grade GCSE "pass" should become tougher, whether there should be a new grading structure, and whether exam boards setting the qualifications should pay more attention to standards in "high-performing jurisdictions".

A government document published last week shows this package of measures was backed by less than a quarter of the 5,496 responses to the consultation, with "nearly half" actively opposed to it. But Mr Gove is implementing them anyway.

The news came as concern grew about the timetable being set for reform with new GCSEs and A levels to be introduced simultaneously in schools from September 2015, only a year after they start teaching a new national curriculum.

One exam board insider told TES that getting the new GCSEs ready in time would be "tough". Ofqual has described the timetable as "challenging" and warned it may have to delay; while the NUT argues it "could lead to a collapse of the system".

The DfE consultation found that 55 per cent of those responding thought schools would be given more than 18 months' preparation time, while another 23 per cent said that they should be given between a year and 18 months to prepare.

There are also fears of confusion over the grades for the new exams. It is planned that reformed GCSEs, with a new grading structure, will be introduced in English language, English literature, maths, history, geography, computer science and other sciences from 2015, with other subjects following a year later.

But this would leave two different GCSE grading systems running at the same time for at least a year.

Mr Gove is clear that grade C or equivalent must also be tougher - a "step change" in expectations of pupils.

The consultation response showed substantial opposition to Mr Gove's plans to end GCSE tiering and introduce 100 per cent external assessment.

One element he admitted had been a "bridge too far" - the plan to award exam boards exclusive franchises for single subjects - was actually the most popular, according to a YouGov poll last year which found that 82 per cent of the public backed it.

MAKING THE GRADE

What survives from Michael Gove's September EBC plans:

- A more demanding "pass"grade C level.

- Better preparation for A level.

- Longer, tougher questions.

- End of bite-sized modules.

- Benchmarking with "high-performing international jurisdictions".

- New grading structure.

- Timetable - first teaching from 2015 and exams from 2017

What remains in an altered form:

- Proposal for 100 per cent external assessment moderated to "internal assessment kept to a minimum".

- End of two-tier qualifications. Mr Gove remains opposed to this "cap on aspiration" but says extension papers could be offered alongside a common core.

What has been dropped:

- Single exam board franchising system.

- The English Baccalaureate Certificate name.

- Statements of achievement for pupils who do not achieve passes.

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