English Baccalaureate plans from Michael Gove 'threaten to wreck' stability of entire examination system

Education Secretary's proposals come under fire

Education Secretary Michael Gove’s plans for a new English Baccalaureate threaten to wreck the stability of the entire examination system, MPs warn today.

In a devastating criticism of the proposals, MPs on the influential Commons education select committee tell Mr Gove that the Government “has not proved its case that GCSEs in the key academic subjects should be abolished”.

Graham Stuart, the Conservative chairman of the committee, added: “We have serious concerns about the Government’s proposed timetable for change.

“Ministers want to introduce a new qualification, require a step-change in standards and alter the way exams are administered - all at the same time.  We believe this is trying to do too much, too quickly and we call on the Government to balance the pace of reform with the need to get it right.”

Today’s report, from an all-party committee of MPs, leaves Mr Gove almost without an ally in his plan to introduce the new EBacc. The committee, made up of five Conservative MPs, five Labour and one Liberal Democrat, backed the criticisms without dissent.

Ministers want to start teaching for the EBacc in schools from September 2015. It will first cover English, maths and the sciences and then take in languages and the humanities - history or geography.

Last night Mr Gove announced he would include computer science under the science umbrella of the EBacc in a move to stifle criticism - particularly from executive director of Google Eric Schmidt - that it was ignoring technology  However, that left the arts lobby claiming it would ruin the creative industries in the UK if arts and drama was still excluded.

In their report, the MPs say introducing so many fundamental reforms at the same time may threaten the stability of the wider examination system.

They accept that GCSEs need “significant improvements” to restore public confidence in the exam system  and praise moves to introduce more end-of-course assessment and restrict resits but argue:  “The Government still needs to make the case that the GCSE brand is so discredited that it is beyond repair.”

In particular, they are worried introducing the EBacc in only the core academic subjects will lead to other areas of the curriculum - such as arts, drama and religious education - being downgraded.

“We have concerns about the potential impact  ... on subjects outside the EBacc which will be left with ‘discredited’ GCSEs for some time to come,” they add.

“We have not seen any evidence to suggest the proposed changes will be more successful than GCSEs in addressing under-achievement or in narrowing the attainment gap between the most disadvantaged students and their peers.”

They also claim the proposals will do nothing for the 40 per cent of young people who fail to obtain five A* to C grades including English and maths. Lower attainers will be left with a “statement of achievement” which the MPs warn could be akin to a “badge of failure”.

“We do not see how raising the bar will automatically help these young people,” Mr Stuart added.

The MPs also criticise the fact the plans have been drawn up before details of the new national curriculum for secondary schools has been drawn up. “At the moment there is little clarity regarding the curriculum and educational outcomes that will be required of the new qualifications,” they add.

Teachers’ leaders last night welcomed the report with Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, saying: “This is a devastating critique of the Government’s policy.  Michael Gove will lack any credibility if his response is ‘I know best: carry on’.”

Stephen Twigg, Labour’s education spokesman, added: “Michael Gove has become the enemy of ambition.  This damning report supports Labour’s warning that the Tory-led government’s changes will do nothing to improve standards, especially for low attaining pupils,”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said:  “We have been clear that the secondary education system is in desperate need of a thorough overhaul - an objective with which the committee agrees.”