Tougher numeracy and literacy tests – and that's just for the teachers

Michael Gove's education reforms are the biggest for 20 years. Classrooms will never be the same again

Richard Garner
Thursday 25 November 2010 01:00

Tough new powers to stop pupils repeatedly re-sitting GCSEs and A-levels. New moves to make it harder for potential recruits to enter teaching, and easier to get rid of those who do. Fines for schools who wrongly exclude pupils, plus a responsibility to ensure any expelled pupils continue to get a full-time education.

These are the key planks of the biggest educational upheaval for more than two decades which was announced yesterday by Education Secretary Michael Gove in his much-trailed government White Paper.

The blueprint contained the expected radical measures to shift teacher training away from colleges to learning on-the-job in the classroom, a return to traditional O-level-style exams at GCSE level with the abolition of coursework, plus a new reading test for all six-year-olds to pick up on any pupil struggling to master how to read.

There were some surprises, too, though. Mr Gove dropped plans to scrap pupils' rights to appeal against expulsion – instead allowing appeals panels to recommend sending an excluded pupil back to school (rather than ordering it).

In addition, the panels are to be given powers to fine schools which fail to follow the proper procedures when expelling a pupil. Furthermore, the school will still have responsibility for the pupil's education after they have excluded him or her, and the excluded pupil's exam results (or lack of them) will still be counted in league tables.

This move dismayed headteachers. Brian Lightman, general secretary of the National Association of School and College Leaders, said that it "contradicted the stated coalition policy of supporting schools in the maintenance of good discipline, as it will present a hindrance to the use of exclusion – especially at a time of financial constraint".

On teaching, Mr Gove is making it harder to enter the profession, as he is removing funding for teacher training from any candidate with a degree pass lower than a 2:2. And the numeracy and literacy tests taken by every would-be teacher will be toughened. At present, candidates sit them at the end of their teacher-training course. In future, they will sit them before they start their courses, and the opportunity to re-sit them will be curtailed.

On recruitment, though, it will be made easier for ex-Army personnel to retrain as teachers.

"Not every school would welcome the RSM [regimental sergeant major] from Sandhurst shouting their orders, but I have to say there are a number of schools who would bite my arm off to have him doing PE on a Friday afternoon," said Mr Gove.

There were measures, too, to make it easier for schools to get rid of poor teachers in the wake of yesterday's report from Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, saying too much teaching was "dull and uninspiring".

"The current regulations on teacher competence are complex, lengthy and fragmented," said the White Paper. "We will shorten and simplify them and the 'capability' procedures for managing poor performance. This will enable heads to deal more swiftly, effectively and fairly with underperforming members of staff."

"There has to be room for someone to put an arm around your shoulder and say: 'You're a fantastic person, Michael, but teaching is not for you,'" Mr Gove added.

However, teacher-training experts warned that the Government was ignoring the prospect of the teacher shortage that looms from 2012, due to a drop in the birth rate. On exams, the White Paper said that up to three-quarters of all pupils re-sat at least one unit of the A-level. "This is a cause for concern," it added. "We will ask Ofqual [the exams watchdog] to change the rules on re-sits to prevent students from re-sitting large numbers of units."

As to the rest of the White Paper, Mr Gove made it clear he would support schools that sought to reintroduce school uniforms such as blazers and ties, or the prefect and house system.

There will also be a review of exam league tables with schools asked to record details of how disadvantaged pupils have fared in exams, as part of a bid to close the attainment gap between rich and poor students.

At a glance: Gove's reforms


* To face tough new literacy and numeracy tests before entering training courses. Will not be able to undertake endless resits if they fail.

* State will refuse to fund anyone on a teacher training course who has less than a 2:2 degree pass.

* Fast-track measures to remove poor teachers.

* More on-the-job training, with a network of Teaching Schools.

* Encourage ex-Army personnel to retrain as teachers.


* Heads to get power to discipline pupils for bullying outside school.

* Teachers can search pupils for pornography, tobacco, fireworks and cameras. They can already confiscate drugs, alcohol and weapons.

* On-the-spot detention rather than giving 24 hours' notice.

* Greater protection for teachers from malicious allegations – allowing anonymity until case gets to court.

* Ofsted to place more emphasis on behaviour in reports.


* New target of 35 per cent of pupils getting five A* to C grade passes.

* All primary schools must get 60 per cent of pupils to reach required standard in maths and English tests for 11-year-olds.

* If they fail, they face being turned into an academy.

* Schools to be forced to show how well they have done in improving disadvantaged pupils' performance.

* Expand academies scheme so it is the accepted status for all schools.


* Retain independent appeals panels but remove their power to reinstate a pupil. Instead they can recommend reversing a decision.

* Panels will have the power to fine schools that do not follow the correct procedures in expelling a child.

* Schools will be responsible for educating excluded pupils – they must arrange it at a neighbouring school or pupil referral unit.

* Excluded pupils' results must be used in exam league tables.


* Pupils will not be able to endlessly resit A-levels and GCSEs.

* Abolish coursework at GCSE in favour of end-of-course examination.

* Encourage universities to play greater role in setting A-level questions, making them more demanding.

* Introduce English baccalaureate as as certificate for those who gain five A* to C grades at GCSE including maths, English, a science, a language – ancient or modern – and a humanities subject.

* Review vocational qualifications.


* Slim down national curriculum to core subjects – English, maths and science.

* Allow more space in timetable for teachers to decide what they teach.

* Review tests at 11 to avoid too much teaching-to-test in final year of primary.

* Make participation in education compulsory up to age 18 by 2015.

* Introduce new phonics-based reading test for all six-year-olds.

* Set up new testing agency to devise voluntary tests for 14-year-olds and to review national assessment at seven.

Tearing up the book: Schools reform

1944 Education act made education compulsory until 14 for the first time. Introduced three-tier system of schools – grammar, secondary modern and technical schools.

1965 Circular 10/65 introduced by then Education Secretary Anthony Crosland forced all local education authorities to draw up plans for going comprehensive. Never fully implemented as some held out, and 164 grammar schools remain.

1972 School leaving age raised to 16. It was followed a decade later by replacing O-levels – considered an exam for the academic pupil while secondary modern pupils, in the main, took more vocational CSEs – with GCSEs for all pupils.

1988 Kenneth Baker's Education Reform Act brought in the national curriculum, created Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, develoved financial management from local authorities to schools, and allowed individual schools to opt out of local education control and receive funding direct from Whitehall.

2010 Michael Gove's White Paper reforming teacher training gives heads and teachers greater disciplinary powers, reviews exams with a planned return to the traditional end-of-course O-level-style exam at GCSE level, and creates more academies and "free" schools – run by parents, teachers and faith groups.

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