MPs criticise ‘lack of coherence’ over exam reforms

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Government plans to axe 
GCSEs in favour of a new exam could fail to help less able pupils and leave some subjects with discredited qualifications, a cross-party group of MPs has warned.

In a damning report, the Commons education select committee said that while significant improvements to GCSEs were needed, Ministers had failed to prove their case for scrapping the qualification, and urged them to slow down the pace of reforms.

It raised serious concerns that the pace and scale of the reforms could jeopardise the quality of the new exams and that there was a “lack of coherence” about the Government’s approach to reforming the curriculum, qualifications and the school accountability system.

Education Secretary Michael Gove announced plans last year to axe GCSEs in favour of new English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) in English, maths and science.

The qualifications will be first taught in September 2015, with students sitting the first exams in 2017. EBCs in history, geography and languages will follow at a later date, and GCSEs are set to remain for other subjects.

But in its report on the proposals, published yesterday, the select committee said it had a number of concerns about the reforms.

The Government has yet to make the case that GCSEs are so discredited that a new exam is needed, and it should publish the full results of its consultation into the reforms to justify why the brand is so damaged it is beyond repair, the committee said. And it warned that the reforms could have a negative impact on subjects that would remain GCSEs.

“We are very concerned about the potential impact of the EBCs on subjects outside the English Baccalaureate, which will be left with ‘discredited’ GCSE qualifications for some time,” the report said. “We question the extent to which it is possible to ‘upgrade’ some subjects without implicitly ‘downgrading’ others.”

Official figures show that in 2011/12, 41.4 per cent of teenagers did not get five GCSEs, including English and maths, at grades A*-C, the report said. It suggested that the Government should focus on improving the achievement of the “significant minority” that do not achieve five good GCSEs.

“While it is right to raise young people’s expectations and aspirations, we fail to see how raising the bar will automatically result in more young people achieving higher standards,” the report said.

“Furthermore, we have serious concerns about how well the proposed reforms will serve the 40 per cent plus of pupils who do not achieve the Government’s current floor standard.”

The committee also calls on ministers to rethink plans to introduce a Statement of Achievement for lower-attaining pupils.

Committee Chair Graham Stuart said: “We do not see how this will be any more useful to young people than a low grade GCSE or alternative qualification.”