Editorial: Full marks for the I-level

The credibility of the GCSE qualification has been stretched to breaking point

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The Education Secretary’s ire at GCSEs is well justified. Between the suspiciously ever-improving results, an over-reliance on coursework, and the opportunity for nigh-endless re-sits, the credibility of the qualification has been stretched to breaking point.

Michael Gove’s proposal to replace it with an English Baccalaureate Certificate covering just five core subjects foundered, however. Instead, the GCSE is to be reformed almost beyond recognition. Coursework will be all but phased out, re-sits will be limited, and a revamped grading system – numbered one to eight – will be introduced. All are welcome developments, not least the decision to spread existing A and A* grades across four numerical marks, reflecting both the new exams’ extra difficulty and universities’ need for more differentiation at the top.

So far, so good. Mr Gove’s iconoclastic agenda and outspoken style may not have endeared him to the teaching establishment, but his attempts to inject a renewed rigour into Britain’s flabby, if not downright disingenuous, exam system deserve top marks – both for effort and for content. There is a wrinkle, though – albeit one that is not of the Education Secretary’s making.

The new exam – to be instituted in eight subjects from September 2015, and the rest the following year – is to be renamed the I-level. In part, the change springs from Mr Gove’s sense that the GCSE qualification has lost all value. But in part it is necessary because the changes will apply only in England; in Wales and Northern Ireland, the old-style GCSE will remain as is.

It is this divergence that is the cause for concern. Not only because Welsh and Northern Irish children may receive a less thorough-going education. But also because it can be no boost to their job prospects to possess a qualification perceived to be inferior. Mr Gove’s  I-level is a breath of fresh air for the English exam system. Wales and Northern Ireland should follow his lead.