Two-tier education already exists, says Michael Gove

 

Michael Gove has insisted that England already has a two-tier education system as he defended plans to axe GCSEs and bring back O-levels.

Many top schools have already ditched the exams in favour of "more rigorous" qualifications such as international GCSEs, the Education Secretary claimed.

Under the most radical changes to the exams system for 30 years, GCSEs would be replaced by O-level exams in traditional academic subjects such as English, maths, the humanities and science.

It would also see less-able pupils taking simpler qualifications similar to old-style CSEs and the national curriculum for secondary school abolished.

But school leaders warned that the move, which they said is a "bombshell", risks "labelling teenagers as failures". It could lead to a two-tier system which writes off part of the population, according to headteachers' unions.

Answering an urgent question in the Commons from shadow schools minister Kevin Brennan, Mr Gove said: "The truth is we have a two-tier system in education in this country. Some of the most impressive schools have already left GCSEs behind and opted for more rigorous qualifications like IGCSEs.

"While there were undoubtedly improvements in our schools and by our teachers over the course of the last 20 years, those improvements were not sufficient to ensure that we kept pace with other jurisdictions."

Under the proposals, contained in documents leaked to the Daily Mail newspaper, pupils would begin studying "explicitly harder" exams in traditional academic subjects such as English, maths, history, modern languages and the sciences from 2014, with exams taken for the first time in 2016.

Papers would be set by a single exam board in order to provide a "gold standard" test across England, the documents said.

It would mean that schoolchildren currently in Year 8, aged 12 and 13, would be the last to take GCSEs.

Less-able pupils will sit simpler examinations similar to the old CSEs. They will include simpler tests in English and maths in order to provide them with "worthwhile" qualifications.

Mr Brennan told MPs: "GCSEs may well need improving, but a two-tier exam system which divides children into winners and losers at 14 is not the answer."

Mr Gove and his ministers are in favour of "going back to the future", he claimed.

"They want to bring back a two-tier exam system designed in the 1950s which will separate children and close off opportunity."

He said the key to improving literacy and numeracy was to raise teaching quality across the board.

The Education Secretary said that the Government would be issuing a consultation paper on the reforms shortly.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), suggested that an O-level system was inappropriate for today's education system.

"O-levels were an examination that existed for a small proportion of the population, that was part of the preparation for university," he said.

"It was an academic qualification and at the time when O-levels existed, vast numbers of young people left either with no qualifications or ones that employers regarded as inferior. The last thing we want to do, when we are ambitious for our education service, is to create a two-tier system.

"It does risk labelling teenagers as failures.

"In recent years we have done a lot to motivate children, to improve attendance, reduced disengagement and truancy, and this is key to the very real improvements that have taken place in schools."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: "The return to a two-tier system, CSEs and O-levels, implicitly labels some children as less capable."

It is understood that ministers believe that teenagers have been encouraged to think that a D, E, F or G grade at GCSE is a pass, when it is seen by many as a fail.

Mr Hobby said people are aware that getting a D or E is not as good, but that GCSEs were designed to cover the full ability range.

"It gave people the chance to do better than anyone expected," he said.

In the past, people who did CSEs and did well at them wished that they had sat O-levels, Mr Hobby said.

The idea of a golden age in the 1950s and 1960s with everybody leaving school with qualifications simply was not true.

"It just wrote off large chunks of the population," he said.

"The idea this once worked is a myth."

Mr Hobby said introducing single exam boards for qualifications was a sensible move because it reduces the competition, adding that the national curriculum in secondary schools is fast becoming an irrelevance.

Around half of secondaries are now academies which do not have to stick to the national curriculum.

The plans to overhaul the exams system come as teenagers across the country are sitting their GCSEs.

Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chamber of Commerce, said: "Businesses have steadily lost confidence in the ability of the education system to deliver young people who are ready for the world of work.

"There are lots of companies out there who are confused by ever-changing qualifications and uncertain as to whether a young person is ready to come into the world of work and take up a job with them.

"It's not actually the changing of the system that matters, it's the outcome that matters.

"If this is a route that leads more employers to say more young people are ready for the world of work, then it will have been successful."

Steve Radley, director of policy at EEF, the manufacturers' organisation, said: "Employers will welcome any efforts to raise the standards in the core subjects of English, science and maths, which many companies say are currently lacking. However, they will want to know more about these proposed changes before passing judgment.

"In particular, we must avoid anything that devalues the status of vocational education, especially at a time when so much effort is being spent on putting apprenticeships on a par with the academic route."

A senior Liberal Democrat source said they had no prior knowledge of the proposals, and they would not go ahead without their approval.

"We learned about it by reading the Daily Mail," the source said.

"What is reported looks like a huge upheaval for very modest gains.

"The main problem we have with this is it looks like it sets far too low an aspiration for our young people.

"Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems do not want to return to the divisions we saw in the 1950s."

The source said the party would not accept a policy which would leave "a large number of children behind at a relatively young age".

"We are very, very hostile to something that looks like it is going to return to the two-tier system of the past," they added.

PA

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
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
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
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

Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: The JobAre you a trai...

Year 3 Teacher Cornwall

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Primary Teacher...

Year 3 Teacher Plymouth

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Primary Teacher...

Biology Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently recruiting...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
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