Michael Gove: Get set for new age of exam failures

Education Secretary says GCSEs and A-levels to be made harder

More teenagers will fail their GCSEs and A-levels after a radical toughening of the examinations system, the Education Secretary declared yesterday.

Michael Gove intends to make exam questions harder in a drive to restore confidence in the system and improve standards, which will see pass rates fall for the first time in years. He also wants university academics more involved in setting A-level questions to give pupils greater scope to show their talents.

At GCSE level, coursework will be phased out and more emphasis placed on written, end-of-year tests. Mr Gove is also removing scores of vocational qualifications from exam league tables because he believes schools have been using them to improve their rankings. "There is a tendency to be complacent about our performance and believe our schools are improving year on year," the minister said. "They are, but they are not improving anything like as fast as schools in other countries.

"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 are 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 every year for the past 27 years, and more than a quarter of all passes are now at grade A. Overall GCSE pass rates have hovered around 98 per cent for years, but the number of passes at grades A* to C has risen steadily. However, Britain is sliding down international league tables which measure English, maths and science performance.

The full impact of Mr Gove's shake-up is unlikely to be felt for three or four years as the changes embed themselves in the system. But there were signs last summer that the rise in pass rates was slowing, possibly as a result of moves by the previous Labour government to stretch candidates.

The Education Secretary's assertion that exam pass rates would fall was immediately welcomed by a leading academic researcher. Professor Alan Smithers, of the Centre for Education and Employment at Buckingham University, said: "I actually think that would be healthy. For the past 15 years, everybody in education has been judged by rising scores. At the same time, there have been complaints from universities that young people – when they get there – do not have what [the universities] are looking for."

However, teaching unions 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 the other," said Brian Lightman, head of the Association of School and College Leaders. "School leaders are more demoralised than I've ever known, and this includes the heads of successful schools. We're absolutely committed to raising standards."

Mr Gove revealed his plans as the boss of a leading exam board told MPs it was considering strict new curbs on examiners after claims that teachers were tipped off in advance about pupils' exam questions. Each year, thousands of teachers attend seminars organised by exam boards and pick up tips on what examiners are looking when marking students' papers.

Mark Dawe, head of the Oxford, Cambridge and Royal Society of Arts (OCR) board, appeared before the Commons Education Select Committee, which is holding an inquiry into exam reform. He told MPs: "We're looking at whether anyone... involved in question-setting in future can't be involved in seminars. There are about 13,000 examiners and you've probably got one or two [who create a problem]. You deal with it rapidly and sack them."

Mr Gove also made a thinly veiled attack on the appointment of Professor Les Ebdon as the Government's new university access "tsar". During an interview for the job at the Office for Fair Access, Mr Ebdon told MPs he was prepared to use the "nuclear option" against elite universities which failed to raise their intakes of poorer students.

Mr Gove acknowledged that the selection of Mr Ebdon, which was ratified by the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, was "Vince's decision". But he said one only had to be present in the Commons on Monday, when Mr Cable was called upon to justify his choice, to know that "the feeling of backbenchers ran high".

"My own view is that the most important thing you need to do in advancing social mobility is to deal with the failure in the school system," Mr Gove said.

Nothing to gain from shackling press, says Gove

Michael Gove warned about the threat to press freedom from the Leveson Inquiry yesterday.

Mr Gove, a former journalist with the Rupert Murdoch-owned Times newspaper, added: "We have laws against the interception of messages, we have laws against bribery, we have laws against journalists like any other profession going rogue... We have everything to lose and nothing to gain from fettering the press."

He urged that existing laws should be used rather than making a blanket attempt to fetter the press. His comments appear to be coded criticism of the wisdom of David Cameron's decision to set up the Leveson Inquiry in the first place.

Richard Garner

Voices
Numbers of complaints about unwanted calls have trebled in just six months
voices
News
people
Arts & Entertainment
Picture of innocence: Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington in ‘Derek’
tvReview: The insights of Ricky Gervais's sweet and kind character call to mind Karl Pilkington's faux-naïf podcast observations
Arts & Entertainment
Tangled up in blue: Singer-songwriter Judith Owen
musicAnd how husband Harry Shearer - of Spinal Tap and The Simpsons fame - helped her music flourish
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Paul Weller: 'I am a big supporter of independent record stores but the greedy touts making a fast buck off genuine fans is disgusting'
music
Arts & Entertainment
William Shakespeare's influence on English culture is still strongly felt today, from his plays on stage to words we use everyday
arts
Sport
Karim Benzema celebrates scoring the opening goal
sportReal Madrid 1 Bayern Munich 0: Germans will need their legendary self-belief to rescue Champions League tie in second leg
Life & Style
Looking familiar: The global biometrics industry is expected to grow to $20bn by 2020
tech
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes has claimed supporters understand the need to look at
sportScot thanks club staff and fans, but gives no specific mention of players
News
Strange 'quack' noises could be undersea chatter of Minke whales
science
News
weird news... and film it, obviously
Life & Style
Balancing act: City workers at the launch of Cityfathers
lifeThe organisation is the brainchild of Louisa Symington-Mills who set up Citymothers in 2012 - a group boasting more than 3,000 members
Arts & Entertainment
tv
News
Fresh hope: Ruth Womak and her dog Jess. A free training course in basic computing skills changed Ruth’s life
educationHow a housing association's remarkable educational initiative gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression
News
Rohff is one of France’s most popular rappers
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Cover Supervisor Needed Nottingham/Derbyshire

£3360 - £16800 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Cover Supervisor requ...

English Teacher

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Urgently Required. En...

Supply teachers needed in Cambridgeshire

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad are looking ...

Geography Teacher

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

Day In a Page

Migrants in Britain a decade on: The Poles who brought prosperity

Migrants in Britain a decade on

The Poles who brought prosperity
Philippe Legrain: 'The eurozone crisis has tipped many into disillusionment, despair and extremism - we need a European Spring'

Philippe Legrain: 'We need a European Spring'

The eurozone crisis has tipped many into disillusionment, despair and extremism - this radically altered landscape calls for a new kind of politics, argues the economist
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A moment of glory on the Western Front for the soldiers of the Raj

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A moment of glory on the Western Front for the soldiers of the Raj
Judith Owen reveals how husband Harry Shearer - star of This Is Spinal Tap and The Simpsons - helped her music flourish

Judith Owen: 'How my husband helped my music flourish'

Her mother's suicide and father's cancer also informed the singer-songwriter's new album, says Pierre Perrone
The online lifeline: How a housing association's remarkable educational initiative gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression

Online lifeline: Housing association's educational initiative

South Yorkshire Housing Association's free training courses gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression
Face-recognition software: Is this the end of anonymity for all of us?

Face-recognition software: The end of anonymity?

The software is already used for military surveillance, by police to identify suspects - and on Facebook
Train Kick Selfie Guy is set to scoop up to $250,000 thanks to his viral video - so how can you cash in on your candid moments?

Viral videos: Cashing in on candid moments

Train Kick Selfie Guy Jared Frank could receive anything between $30,000 to $250,000 for his misfortune - and that's just his cut of advertising revenue from being viewed on YouTube
The world's fastest elevators - 20 metres per second - are coming soon to China

World's fastest elevators coming soon to China

Whatever next? Simon Usborne finds out from Britain's highest authority on the subject
Cityfathers tackles long-hours culture that causes men to miss out on seeing their children

Cityfathers tackles long-hours culture

The organisation is the brainchild of Louisa Symington-Mills, a chief operating officer who set up Citymothers in 2012 - a group that now boasts more than 3,000 members
Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable