Coffee House

Michael Gove and the return to rigour

16 September 2012

3:43 PM

16 September 2012

3:43 PM

The news that the coalition will announce on Tuesday that it is scrapping GCSEs is welcome. GSCEs are a devalued qualification and replacing them with a far more rigorous exam should boost England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s global competiveness as well as preparing pupils better for A-Levels. (Simon Walters’ scoop has the details on how the new qualification will differ from GCSEs).

That this change is going ahead is a sign that the coalition is now functioning far better than it was a few months ago. When the idea of getting rid of GSCEs was originally floated back in June, Clegg reacted with unthinking fury. But in talks that have been going on since July, Clegg and Gove have managed to thrash out a deal: the deputy prime minister would accept a new exam system if the education secretary dropped plans to have two sets of exams, one for the brightest and another for the less able. I understand that the arrival of David Laws, Clegg’s closest intellectual ally, as Gove’s number two at education eased this negotiation.


Inside government, the joint Gove Clegg press conference on Tuesday unveiling the new qualifications is being described as a ‘big proalition moment’, proof that the coalition partners can still do radical things together. Indeed, among Clegg’s allies there appears to be a renewed appreciation that aggressive differentiation has not worked. One argues that since it has started, ‘David Cameron has been hurt, Nick’s been hurt and the Labour leader has grown’.

There are those suggesting that this change will never happen because schools are only meant to start preparing pupils for the new exams from September 2015, after the date of the next election. But given how the public realise that exams have got easier, Labour would be foolhardy simply to oppose Give’s proposals. If they do, they’ll hand the Tories an easy election dividing line: we’re for a rigorous education, Labour still want everyone to have prizes.

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Show comments
  • GScott

    I think mr Gove is in real danger of missing the point … he is a bull in a china shop however in the wrong china shop. The current GCSE tak into account a fair bit of class room course work and phase exams …. this should remain. It is pointless turning up in late of the exam year and taking a one hit test which determines success or failure for an entire year. The school year has to account for something !! Put gove in Immigration … he would have the lot packing pronto …… errgh I hope

  • DavidH

    Rigorous education? This is ghastly. The government can’t get any traction with the much needed economic or health reforms. Welfare may get similarly bogged down. Frustrated? Then let’s take it out on the kids and beat them up a bit. Bring back caning and daily torture on the rugby field, why not? That’ll make us all feel better about ourselves and lift our standing in the world.

    Sure, there are problems with education in The UK that deperately need fixing. But this government has something of a track record on issues it decides to tackle – publicize a grand vision in meaningless soundbites, meddle a bit, break a few things, upset lots of people, u-turn, look elsewhere for the next big idea.

    Don’t do that to our kids!

  • Rockin Ron

    But not until 2015, that’s not rigour, its rigor mortis!

  • David Lindsay

    Good to see the admission that “free” markets are utterly useless at delivering public services, and result instead in costly duplication while standards slip. But that realisation, commonsensical to the point of self-evidence, is precisely why this will never actually happen.

    Michael Gove is forever issuing grand “initiatives” with maximum publicity for himself. Nothing ever comes of any of them. But that is never the point. He has been in the papers and on the telly again. So the job is done.

  • telemachus

    …oppose Give’s proposals
    Give who?

  • Heartless etc.,

    Rigour? More, more, more please –

    in Real Conservative political thinking,

    in education,

    in monetary discipline,

    in work to restore REAL Money,

    in work to restore the value of REAL Money,

    in rigorous dissection of the EUSSR, – likewise LieBore,

    and finally, (for now),

    in attempts to find an authentic Conservative as Leader

    • Dan Grover

      It blows my mind that people who are – and I’m making a big assumption here that I’d be absolutely delighted to be told I’m wrong for making – adults say things like “LieBore” and “EUSSR”. Do you say “Tony bLiar” and “George Bu$h” too?

      • Malfleur

        Do people still use that old hippy expression from the 1960s, “to blow one’s mind”? Right on, man!

      • Nicholas

        It’s because LieBore and the EUSSR are hated around here and people often find it the only way to fight back against both those monstrous organisations. Since the objective of both organisations is to infantilise populations and put ordinary people on a permanent naughty step you can hardly blame them.

      • Keith

        Wasn’t it Mikhail Gorbachev, a man who knows a thing or two about Socialism, who said that we are reconstructing the Soviet Union here in Western Europe?

        • Dan Grover

          I’ve nothing against the comparison – in fact, I quite agree. It’s the infantile means of expressing it.

    • Malfleur

      Rigour and the reasons for rigour: I came across the following comment at

      “Dean Street
      September 16th, 2012 – 18:36

      Having just returned to Britain after a spell in South Africa, I went to the cinema on Saturday night, in Piccadilly Circus.

      Walking into the Trocadero, which smells of chip fat and sweets, I
      was immediately shocked by how run down and dingy this tourist
      attraction is. I had ordered my tickets online at home, but the machine
      used to retrieve the prepaid tickets at the cinema was out of order. I
      was directed in a Pakistani accent so thick I could not understand it
      (even after three attempts at getting the employee to repeat himself) to
      a general counter where the only white employee managed, after a lot of
      hassle, to print me out my tickets. Then onto the drinks section, where
      another non-British employee told me that I could get a large drink
      instead of a medium sized one for an extra 35p. The overall cost for a
      large lemonade? £5.

      Next, into the cinema. Film begins. Am stunned as people continue to
      talk and crunch loudly on popcorn and other hideous smelling
      lard-and-sugar confections. All the way through the film. A man asks one
      group of people to be quiet. They throw a half full bucket of popcorn
      at the man, some of it goes over me. For the rest of the film, the group
      make continuous nose which never stops.

      I decide to ask cinema staff to intervene. Unfortunately, the
      knowledge of english by the cinema staff is next to none, so the bird
      chested english girly boy has to promise that “something will be done”.

      Nothing is done until the end of the film when a huge fight breaks out in the cinema foyer.

      I then made my way home past endless groups of drunk, pot-bellied men
      and scantily clad, even drunker women, with the sound of shouting and
      broken glass in the air.

      Despite what people tell you about South Africa, and it does have
      problems, it is overall a much happier place than Britain, which I no
      longer consider to be sophisticated. To think that people save up and
      spend huge chunks of money to visit this shit hole!

      It makes me very sad.”

      • telemachus

        Is the vicar happy for you to copy from the UKIP porn site?

        • Nicholas

          telemachus – troll, admirer of Stalin, left-wing loony, stalker, harasser, lurker, coffee house limpet, slogan peddler. Can be found most often stalking and harassing other commentators rather than posting any comments himself. Believes in a single party state, censorship and the repression of disagreement. Believes it is his role to harass anyone who disagrees with his brand of left-wing politics by a combination of abuse and veiled threats. Maddened by the fact that he cannot post at a particular website so obsessively harasses it here.

          • Andy H

            I just thought he as a tit with low self esteem issues……..

      • Alison

        Not denying that there’s a problem with our education system but this is certainly not typical of any of my frequent visits to the West End. If things were that bad, we simply wouldn’t have a tourist industry. Theatres, concert halls, museums – not many fights there.

        I seriously doubt whether families of the huge number of murder victims in SA feel that it’s a happy place.

      • Gscott

        Its London mate … but nopt as you know it. What a shitpit

  • David Lindsay

    It’ll never happen. Nothing that Michael Gove says ever does.

    • Fergus Pickering

      I love you, Lindsay.You can be trusted 100% You’re always wrong.about everything – a true intellectual!

      • David Lindsay

        Well, what has he done? He is given a free pas because he is one of Fleet Street’s own. Like Boris Johnson.

        • M. Wenzl

          Given what Jeremy Hunt got away with, do you think that Gove could quite literally get away with murder?

  • Michael990

    Thus the problem remains. There DO need to be two sets of exams because of the vast range of aptitude and intelligence.

    • james102

      But this clashes with the fallacy of proportionate outcomes
      which is central to social policy.

      Any deviation from equal outcomes between groups is down to
      discrimination—do pay attention.

      How are the inevitable discrepancies in results going to be
      explained if “rigour” is restored?

    • Dan Grover

      Given a big enough scale, why does there need to be two sets of exams? We don’t just need to use A-F for grades. This is a whole new set of exams, and it’s an opportunity for the DoE to change minds about what an E is. They could go all the way to M if they want, with E being a fairly decent if not earth shattering grade, and an A being reserved for all but the absolute brightest.

      • james102

        You are missing the point about equal outcomes.
        Unless scores are seen to be equal across groups then it is taken as evidence of discrimination.Direct,indirect or institutional.

        • Dan Grover

          I don’t understand what this has to do with Michael’s point and my response. He suggested that the difference in aptitude between two students can be so great that no one exam system can hope to fit both. You’re injecting an idea about ‘equal outcomes’ into a separate discussion.

          • Publius

            Dan Grover, as an example you may like to reflect on how Latin was squeezed out of state schools on the grounds that it was inherently elitist and discriminatory.

            • Dan Grover

              As someone who simultaneously attended a state school and studied Classics, I’d argue there are far better reasons to get rid of teaching Latin than elitism, but I guess that’s not the point.

              I agree shoving any subject out to fit with the masses is a problem, but what’s the solution? Classics for the smarty pants, woodwork for the dumb kids? What does the genius carpenter do? There’s no reason you can’t offer a qualification in both classics *and* woodworking. The problem you mention doesn’t have much to do with qualifications as much as it does the individual schools. Students shouldn’t have to choose between classics and woodwork if they like both, we just need to create a system where they can choose more freely what it is they study, because I’d rather a class of students who are interested in what they’re studying (even if I wouldn’t want to study it) than see them sitting and ignoring the past participle of regentis.

              • Publius

                Dan Grover asks: “…but what’s the solution?”

                – Keeping it, and not lowering the standard.

                But anyway there is only a “problem” if you accept the left’s parameters in the first place.

      • Publius

        Because, Dan Grover, in many subjects, if not all, it just isn’t possible to set a single question that will at the same time stretch the brightest and allow the dimmest to manage any kind of answer at all.

        • Dan Grover

          I agree, and I suppose I was being unclear (and possibly incorrect to question Michael) because he *did* say Exam, but I assume he meant qualification. In GCSE’s you can have papers where the maximum grade is a C, for example. The questions are easier, but the best you can ever hope for is a C – typically, which one to go for is decided only shortly (several weeks, perhaps) before the exam itself, based upon the student’s work in class. One would argue that this, really, isn’t the same as a C on the other paper, and they’d probably be right, but the idea is to test ones knowledge as well as their aptitude for learning. As such, I don’t see why a similar system couldn’t be worked out for the English Bac, where there are a number of exams within the same syllabus. This way you end up, assuming they don’t make a pigs ear of the specifics, a single qualification that allows for students of all aptitudes to be directly compared to one another – otherwise, who is better? The person that gets a D in the ‘clever’ exam or an A in the ‘stupid’ exam?

          It’s not something I’m particularly vociferous about, I just think it could certainly work.

  • itdoesntaddup

    I thought Laws was supposed to be a block on everything Gove was trying to achieve?

    Seem that rumour was wrong then.

    There is some understandable concern in Tory circles about David Laws becoming a minister for education. As Paul Goodman says today, there’s a worry that even this brightest orange Lib Dem could end up slowing down Michael Gove’s reform plans.

    • james102

      There is so little difference between the professional political
      class that it normally comes down to family tradition or the group they
      socialised with at university.

      He has to make the appropriate noises for the sake of the
      party faithful ,like the others do, but few believe anything much.

    • David Lindsay

      The Department that ostentatiously sends out Bibles to schools, Bibles
      featuring both a preface by the Secretary of State and a reference to
      his very person on the cover (why not a photograph?), now has both David
      Laws and Liz Truss as Ministers.