Radical plan to scrap GCSEs announced
Proposals to get rid of GCSEs and return to an O-level style exams are to be considered by a committee chaired by Nick Clegg.
The radical plan to return to O-levels will ensure an education system that compares with most rigorous in the world, according to Education Secretary Michael Gove.
Critics however claim that the plans would create a two-tier system of the 1950s, which the Liberal Democrats have dismissed, but the announcement has been met with anger from Labour and teachers' unions.
The proposals could see less-able pupils taking simpler qualifications similar to old-style CSEs and the end of the national curriculum.
The Education Secretary was also accused of attempting a 'knee-jerk return to a nostalgic ‘golden age’ of O-levels. But school leaders have said this 'golden age' is nothing more than a myth, as many teenagers left school with no qualifications.
Mr Gove said:"While there were undoubtedly improvements in our schools and by our teachers over the course of the last 20 years, those improvements were not sufficient to ensure that we kept pace with other jurisdictions.'
The proposals seen by the Mail suggested that from September 2014, pupils will begin studying for 'explicitly harder' exams in English, maths, physics, chemistry and biology.
Tough O-levels will also be drawn up in history, geography and modern languages.
The new exams will 'meet or exceed the highest standards in the world for that age group'.
Under his revolutionary plans:
- GCSEs will 'disappear' from schools within the next few years
- The National Curriculum in secondary schools will be abolished
- The requirement that pupils obtain five good GCSEs graded A* to C will be scrapped
- Less intelligent pupils will sit simpler exams, similar to the old CSEs
- O-level pupils will sit the same gold standard paper nationwide from a single exam board
Mr Gove believes the creation of GCSEs by the Tories in the 1980s was a 'historic mistake' that has 'failed pupils' and led to the collapse of standards through grade inflation and a proliferation of 'Mickey Mouse' courses.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: 'Michael Gove’s continual criticism of GCSEs as a ‘dumbed down’ examination is not only incorrect but also very offensive to those pupils and teachers who achieve great results every year.
'Getting rid of GCSEs and replacing them with the old O-level and CSE qualifications could easily lower aspirations and exacerbate inequalities in society.'
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: 'It sounds like Michael Gove is making a joke in poor taste at the expense of pupils and teachers.
'Quite who is supposed to benefit from a return to new look O-levels and CSEs and a two-tier exam system? Where is the evidence that this will be an improvement?
'We want all children to be challenged, achieve their potential and gain the skills they need to progress in education and get jobs, so support good quality exams.
'But once again Mr Gove is ignoring less academic children and neglecting vocational qualifications which provide pupils with important skills for employment and life after education."
Mr Gove said the Government would issue a consultation paper on its plans for reform shortly.
In the autumn a public consultation will run for 12 weeks. That will clear the way for them to be implemented early next year. None of the plans require an Act of Parliament.
The Education Secretary said: 'We would like to see every student in this country able to take world class qualifications, like the rigorous and respected exams which are taken, for example, by Singapore's students.'
In Singapore students can sit an O-level exam set by Cambridge University.
Mr Gove added: 'We want to tackle the culture of competitive dumbing-down, by making sure that exam boards cannot compete with each other on the basis of how easy their exams are.
'We want a curriculum that prepares all children for success at 16 and beyond, by broadening what is taught in our schools and in improving how it is assessed.'
Mr Gove's proposal isseen as an attempt to reverse three decades of academic decline and create a system that Labour could not reverse if its wins power in 2015.
The leaked document seen by the Mail reveals: 'Those starting GCSEs in 2013 are the last pupils who will have to do them.'
This means they will sit their exams in 2015. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of pupils who begin in September 2014 will be expected to take O-levels in English, maths and the sciences in 2016.
There will be individual O-levels in physics, chemistry and biology, instead of a combined sciences qualification.
In a bid to end the slide in standards, pupils will have to study complex subjects like calculus to get an A grade in O-level maths. English literature pupils will be banned from taking set texts into exams and will be expected to write longer essays.
Mr Gove believes teenagers should not be encouraged to think that a D, E, F or G grade at GCSE is a 'pass' when the real world treats those grades as a 'fail'.
From 2014, the bottom 25 per cent of pupils will study more straightforward exams in English, maths and science, so they can get a worthwhile qualification.
This autumn, exam boards will enter a competition to win the right to set the first new O-levels. The Department for Education will announce before Christmas which boards will set the English, maths and science O-levels, with the same exam taken nationwide.
This is expected to lead to resistance from boards like Edexcel, who could lose business unless they land the contracts.
Exam boards will also be told to devise new O-levels in history, geography and modern languages.
Mr Gove hopes they will also be ready for pupils beginning study in 2014 but their introduction may take until 2015.
GCSEs will not disappear immediately and schools will be able to continue teaching the English Baccalaureate.
In order to persuade schools to adopt the new exams in 2014, the Government will scrap the requirement that pupils should seek to obtain five good GCSEs graded A* to C from 2016 – leaving them free to take on the new gold standard O-levels.
However, Nick Clegg has threatened to block the proposals outright. He said: "I'm not in favour of anything that would lead to a two-tier system where children at quite a young age are somehow cast on a scrapheap."
Even senior Conservatives have criticised the plans, including the creator of the National Curriculum, Kenneth Baker, and Graham Stuart, the chairman of the education committee.
Mr Stuart said: "How exactly will a move back to traditional O-levels help close the gap between rich and poor?
"The government seems to be more focussed on the children whom we serve relatively well, the brighter kids, and not focussing on the central problem, the children at the bottom."
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