Global Perspectives: England’s Education Minister Michael Gove Retreats from Changes to the General Certificate of Secondary Education

Michael Gove abandons GCSE replacementBy Betsy Brown Ruzzi

Backtracking from a proposal to do away with the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), the set of examinations that English secondary students take from age 16 on, Education Minister Michael Gove announced February 7 that the government would not establish the EBAC or English Baccalaureate, a plan that had been introduced by him in September.  Under pressure from Ofqual, the body that regulates school qualifications in England, along with teachers unions and school administrators, Gove dropped the plan to allow only one organization to produce exams for each subject instead of allowing many to do so, as has long been the practice.  But he will still push for some of the other elements originally found in his EBAC proposal.  He wants to get rid of coursework (work done on assignments given by teachers and graded by them) and modules (the ability for students to work on small chunks of curriculum and then be tested on those topics).  He wants to give exams at the end of two-years of study in the core subjects instead of at the end of one year, add extension papers in mathematics and science for “the brightest students”, and, most significantly, change the definition of school success when reported to the public through league tables.  The Minister has proposed to get rid of the current league tables where schools are evaluated based on the percentage of students with 5 or more GCSEs scoring at a C or above.  His plan calls for schools to be evaluated on two measures: the percentage of students passing English and mathematics and a report on the progress that students make from year to year in eight GCSE subjects.

In addition to the teachers unions, Ofqual and the school administrators association, the Education Select Committee in Parliament also weighed in against Gove’s proposal.  The Conservative PM that heads the committee argued that if the country were to institute the qualifications system Gove envisioned, which would have given students who did not complete their EBAC a “statement of achievement” rather than a qualification, those students would be given “a badge of failure” hurting less able students rather than helping them.

For more information on EBacc, visit the Department for Education website.  Gove’s latest proposal, which includes a new national curriculum emphasizing the traditional subjects taught in a more structured way, would go into effect in schools in 2015 with the first examinations to be given in 2017.