Michael Gove has confirmed he is abandoning plans to introduce English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) and will instead reform existing GCSE qualifications.
At the same time, the education secretary has unveiled proposals to substantially change accountability measures within the school league tables – moving to a pupil progress measure covering eight subjects and a threshold measure for English and maths. Both will feature in a new floor standard for schools.
Elsewhere, on a busy day for Mr Gove, he has published the draft national curriculum programmes of study for key stages 1 to 4.
The draft document sets out plans to retain all the existing subjects within the curriculum and includes the introduction of modern foreign languages at key stage 2. Mr Gove has published much shortened programmes of study for all subjects, except in English, maths and science where new programmes of study are more in-depth.
Public consultations have now opened on both the draft curriculums and the league table proposals.
Addressing MPs in the House of Commons this morning (Thursday, February 7), Mr Gove admitted that his EBC plans were "an error" and confirmed that they are to be shelved.
He maintained that there was a “consensus that the system needs to change”, but admitted: “One of the proposals I put forward was a bridge too far.”
Instead, the education secretary set out his plans to reform existing GCSE qualifications for first teaching in 2015.
Mr Gove had planned to introduce EBCs in core subjects in 2015 with first exams in 2017. Courses in other EBacc subjects – history, geography and languages – were to follow. The idea was that pupils of all abilities would sit the same exam with one exam board delivering each subject.
However, the reforms proved widely unpopular, drawing criticism from teaching unions, exams watchdog Ofqual, a range of creative and cultural organisations, and most recently, the Education Select Committee.
Mr Gove told Parliament: “My idea that we end the competition between exam boards to offer GCSEs in core academic qualifications and have just one – wholly new – exam in each subject was just one reform too many at this time.
“The exam regulator Ofqual was clear that there were significant risks in trying to both strengthen qualifications and end competition in a large part of the exams market.
“So I have decided not to make the best the enemy of the good. And I will not proceed with plans to have a single exam board offering a new exam in each academic subject – instead we will concentrate on reforming existing GCSEs along the lines we put forward in September, ?because there is a consensus that the exams and qualification system we inherited was broken.”
Mr Gove told MPs that his reformed GCSE qualifications would be linear with all assessments at the end of the course.
He continued: “Examinations will test extended writing in subjects such as English and history, have fewer bite-sized and overly structured questions, and in mathematics and science there should be a greater emphasis on quantitative problem-solving.
“Internal assessment and the use of exam aids will be kept to a minimum and used only where there is a compelling case to do so, to provide for effective and deep assessment of the specified curriculum content.”
The Department for Education has today confirmed that the changes will apply to GCSEs in English language, literature, maths, physics, chemistry, biology, combined science, history and geography for first teaching from 2015.
A statement added: “Changes to other subjects will follow as soon as possible after that, with the aim that new qualifications are in place for teaching from September 2016.”
Mr Gove said: “I have asked Ofqual to ensure we have new GCSEs in the core academic subjects of English, maths, the sciences, history and geography ready for teaching in 2015.”
He also said that grade tiering, where lower attaining pupils take examinations for which the top mark possible is a C, should end and the reformed GCSEs “should allow students to access any grade while enabling high quality assessment at all levels”.
In a letter to exams watchdog Ofqual, Mr Gove said: “We will publish for consultation, by May this year, requirements for subject content in the new qualifications in English language, English literature, mathematics, science, history and geography in time to allow awarding organisations to prepare specifications.”
Responding to the letter, Ofqual chief executive Glenys Stacey warned Mr Gove over the timetable reform – a criticism that the Education Select Committee had also levelled over his EBC reforms.
Ms Stacey wrote: “The timetable for qualifications development that you have set out is challenging. We will launch our consultation as soon as possible so that exam boards’ development of the new qualifications can begin in the autumn.
“Subject to the curriculum content being ready as planned, this should allow GCSEs in the first group of subjects to be in schools in autumn 2014 and to be ready for first teaching in 2015. We will need jointly to keep the timetable under review and if problems arise Ofqual would, if necessary, delay the reforms.”
Elsewhere, Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the fact that Mr Gove has listened to the profession over the EBCs.
He said: “We have never believed that GCSE is beyond repair and have been urging the government for many months not to abandon it. It is encouraging that the secretary of state has listened to the voices from all sides that have urged him to think again.
“All students need access to appropriate qualifications that are fit-for-purpose. A one-size-fits-all examination will help neither the most nor the least able. The reformed GCSE must be rigorous but it also must be relevant to students of all ability levels, whether they are going straight into work, a high level apprenticeship or to university.”
For more information on the proposed GCSE reforms, visit www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/qualifications/gcses
League table reform
A consultation has been launched today over planned changes to school league tables and accountability measures.
Currently, the main measure for schools is the proportion of students attaining five A* to C grades including English and maths, but speaking to Parliament today Mr Gove admitted that this can encourage too much of a focus on pupils around the borderline, to the detriment of others.
He also believes that having a headline measure only focusing on five subjects "weakens" incentives for schools to offer a ”broad curriculum”.
Instead, proposals published in a consultation document outline a new “average point score” progress measure which includes eight selected subjects.
The consultation document explains: “(This) should have one slot reserved for each of English and mathematics; and three slots reserved for other EBacc subjects: sciences, computer science, geography, history and languages.
“The remaining three slots could be taken up by further qualifications from the range of EBacc subjects, or any other high value arts, academic, or vocational qualifications (as set out on the Department’s list of vocational qualifications approved for inclusion in performance tables).”
It adds that this “key progress measure” will be calculated using a value-added method, using end of key stage 2 results in English and maths as a baseline.
It continues: “If a pupil takes more than three further qualifications, then their highest three scores will count in the measure. The average of all pupils’ scores in these eight qualifications will be published in the tables.
“The point score approach rewards schools for the achievements of all pupils. The measure will not create incentives to focus on pupils near a particular borderline, thus supporting teachers’ aims to help all their pupils achieve their best.”
Alongside this, the league tables will feature a threshold measure showing the percentage of pupils achieving a "pass" at English and maths. It is thought "pass" will still refer to A* to C grades. The consultation document states: "GCSE grades A* to G are all pass grades, however grade C and above are often referred to as being passes, both colloquially and in international comparisons. We use pass in inverted commas to mean an outcome consistent with performance standards in high performing educational jurisdictions."
The plan is for both the new progress measure and threshold measure to become part of a new-look floor standard for schools.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers cautiously welcomed the move away from a focus on the C grade, but warned that all “crude” measures had to be removed from league tables.
She said: “Mr Gove quite rightly highlighted the problems with league tables such as teaching to the test in a narrow range of subjects and concentrating on the C/D borderline pupils. If the new measures to look at pupils progress are truly about valuing the achievements that a pupil makes throughout their school career then that would be welcomed. However, if the old measures remain in place the very problems Mr Gove spoke of will remain and will be the crude measure by which schools are judged.”
You can download the consultation details online at www.education.gov.uk/aboutdfe/departmentalinformation/consultations/
New national curriculum
The Department for Education has published the draft programmes of study for all national curriculum subjects in key stages 1 to 3 and for citizenship, computing and PE in key stage 4.
A consultation has opened over the slimmed down programmes of study, which are much shorter for all subjects except in English, maths and science.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Gove confirmed that all existing subjects would be retained – including citizenship at key stage 4, which had been under threat – and said that the teaching of modern foreign languages would be introduced into the key stage 2 curriculum.
A final version of the national curriculum is due to be published in the autumn for first teaching in schools from September 2014.
The consultation document states: “The new national curriculum has detailed programmes of study for primary English, mathematics and science. These specify the core knowledge which provides the foundations for all further learning and are therefore intended to be a detailed guide to teachers to support them in bringing about a step-change in performance in these vital subjects.
“In other subjects and key stages we are aiming to give teachers more space and flexibility to design their lessons by focusing only on the essential knowledge to be taught in each subject.”
In mathematics, the draft curriculum outlines a greater emphasis on arithmetic and the “efficient written methods of long multiplication and division” as well as “more demanding content in fractions, decimals and percentages”.
In science, there is a stronger focus on the “importance of scientific knowledge and language and a greater emphasis on the core scientific concepts underpinning pupils’ understanding”.
For English, the proposed English programmes of study will "embody higher standards of literacy". The consultation states: "Pupils will be expected to develop a stronger command of the written and spoken word. Through the strengthening of the teaching of phonics we will help more pupils to read fluently."
The proposals also outline the replacement of existing ICT curriculum with a new computing programme of study which will have "a much greater emphasis on computational thinking and practical programming skills".
You can download the national curriculum consultation documents and draft programmes of study at www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/