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

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
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

Humanities Teacher

£110 - £135 per day + Competitive Rates: Randstad Education Maidstone: Outstan...

Special Needs Teachers required - Derby

£110 - £145 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are rec...

Year 3 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 primary supply teacher ne...

General Cover Teacher - Grimsby

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Qualified Teachers needed for Supply in t...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor