More teenagers will fail their GCSE and A-level exams under a radical toughening of the examination system, the Education Secretary declared yesterday.
Michael Gove said ministers intend to make questions tougher as part of a move to restore public confidence in the exam system and improve standards, which will see pass rates fall for the first time in years. He also wants university academics to become more involved in the setting of A-level questions to give pupils more scope to show their talents.
At GCSE level, coursework will be phased out, with more emphasis placed on the end-of-year exam. Mr Gove is also removing scores of vocational qualifications from exam league tables, as he claims schools have been using them to boost their results.
"There is a tendency to be complacent about our performance and believe our schools are improving year on year. They are, but they're not improving anything like as fast as schools in other countries," he said.
"Education is like trying to run up a down escalator. There are some uncomfortable decisions that will have to be taken. There will be years when, because we're going to make exams tougher, the number of people passing will fall. There are headteachers who have been peddling the wrong sort of approach to teaching for too long, who are going to lose their jobs."
A-level results have improved year on year for the past 27 years, with more than one in four pupils now gaining an A grade pass. Overall GCSE pass rates have hovered around the 98 per cent mark for years, but the number of A* to C grade passes has steadily risen. However, the UK is sliding down international league tables measuring English, maths and science performance.
The full impact of the shake-up is unlikely to be felt for the next three or four years.
Headteachers' leaders attacked Mr Gove for portraying the education system as "failing". "We are very concerned about the negative image ministers are giving of the education service and how it seems that one criticism follows after the other," said Brian Lightman, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.