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
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
Ministry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
News
peopleHere's what Stephen Fry would say
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Richard Dawkins is known for his outspoken views
people
Life and Style
L’Auberge du pont de Collonges (AFP)
food + drinkFury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Arts and Entertainment
Bourne's New Adventures dance company worked with 27 young Londoners to devise a curtain-raiser staged before New Adventures' performance of Edward Scissorhands
theatreStar choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: We are currently looking for a Geog...

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links