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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Nurse and Room Leader - Hackney

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a qualified childcare p...

AER Teachers: PPA TEACHER/MENTOR

£27000 - £37000 per annum: AER Teachers: THE SCHOOL: This is a large and vibra...

AER Teachers: EYFS Teacher

£27000 - £37000 per annum: AER Teachers: EYFS TEACHERAn 'Outstanding' Primary ...

AER Teachers: YEAR 3 TEACHER - PREPARATORY SCHOOL

£27000 - £40000 per annum: AER Teachers: YEAR 3 TEACHER - PREPARATORY SCHOOLA ...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones