The Education Secretary Michael Gove is drawing up proposals to scrap GCSE exams and replace them with revamped O-levels for the brightest students.
Under the plans, pupils would begin studying for “explicitly harder” exams at 16 in English, maths, physics, chemistry and biology from 2014.
But Mr Gove is likely to face strong opposition to his idea – not least from his Liberal Democrat Coalition partners – who fear that linked proposals to bring back easier CSE exams for “less intelligent” pupils will hamper social mobility. He will also be accused of pandering to the Tory right, who have long been unhappy with the Government’s failure to back the widespread reintroduction of grammar schools.
GCSEs were first introduced to end the social and academic divide between O-Levels and CSEs which required teachers to separate pupils into streams at 14. But critics have argued that GCSEs dumbed down Britain’s education system and have clamoured for the reintroduction of what they believe is a “gold standard” qualification.
Under Mr Gove’s proposals, leaked to the Daily Mail, the new exams would “meet or exceed the highest standards in the world for that age group”.
Mr Gove has understood to have already discussed his plans with the exams regulator Ofqual and will announce them later this month.
Under draft proposals – which have not yet been cleared with the Conservative Coalition partners and have emerged while the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is out of the country:
* The National Curriculum in secondary schools would be abolished to give heads freedom to teach what they like when they like;
* The Government will scrap the requirement that pupils obtain five good GCSEs graded A* to C to encourage uptake of the new O-Levels;
* Less intelligent pupils who currently get F or G grades at GCSE will sit new simpler exams like the old CSE.
A document, seen by the Mail, reveals: “Those starting GCSEs in 2013 are the last pupils who will have to do them,” sitting their exams in 2015.
More than two-thirds of pupils who begin in September 2014 will be expected to take O-Levels in English, maths and science in 2016. There will be individual O-Levels in physics, chemistry and biology. In a bid to end the slide in standards, pupils will have to study complex subjects like calculus to get an A grade in O-Level Maths. English students will be banned from taking set texts into exams and will be expected to write longer essays.