Ministers told GCSE needs more levels

FURTHER retuning of the GCSE exam is being planned by ministers, following the furore over a report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate suggesting that higher grades are reflecting lower standards, writes Colin Hughes.

Already ministers have decided that 16-year-olds should sit different GCSE papers, depending on their ability - a move that will mean pupils being entered for one of four papers aimed at different levels.

But John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, is being advised that the brightest pupils need to be stretched still further, and the least academically able pupils may be poorly served by GCSEs. The implication is that an even wider range of papers may be offered.

The row broke last week when Mr Patten released an HMI report which concluded that there may have been a 'gradual erosion of standards since the introduction of the GCSE in 1988'.

Mr Patten has no intention of dismantling the GCSE, which he sees as a system within which a range of examining approaches can be adopted. He has also made it clear to close colleagues that neither he nor the Prime Minister wants to bring back O-levels.

But he has told the four free- standing examining groups to propose ways of putting their house in order by 30 September. Since publishing the HMI criticisms, he has received information suggesting that some boards are slacker than others. He has also sent the evidence on which the inspectors based their conclusions to the boards.

Examining boards suspect that the Government is planning to use the criticism as an excuse for scrapping them and creating a new single examination agency. Instead, Mr Patten's advisers are proposing that the exam be placed under closer scrutiny next year, to be followed by a report from Ofsted, the independent inspection authority which was launched last week under the leadership of Professor Stewart Sutherland, vice-chancellor of London University.

If that report, next autumn, concludes that there is an unacceptable variation in grades and syllabuses between different boards, Mr Patten could either create a new board - a kind of 'real education board' - to compete with the existing exam groups, or abolish the boards and opt for a national agency.

A third alternative, however, is more probable. Officials have pointed out that the amalgamation of the School Examinations and Assessment Authority with the National Curriculum Council, proposed in Mr Patten's July White Paper, will create a body that could police the examining boards more tightly, acting as a standards guarantee by requiring the detailed approval of syllabuses and examining methods.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own