Michael Gove faces MPs at education questions this afternoon, and as you might expect, GCSEs appear a couple of times on the order paper. Labour’s Emma Reynolds will ask the Education Secretary ‘what plans he has for the future of GCSEs, and if he will make a statement’. As I blogged on Friday, Gove does have plans to make a statement about the future of the secondary school exams, and the Liberal Democrats believe they’ve managed to squash any hopes he had of returning to the two-tier system of O levels and CSEs.
But Gove didn’t quite stick to this when he did his tour of the television and radio studios this morning. It was in his interview with John Humphrys on the Today programme where the Education Secretary suggested he still wants an exam which will not be taken by every 16-year-old. He said:
‘One of the things that’s important to stress is that the O level is an examination which in the past used to be sat by a minority which is why when people have discussed this potential return, they’ve automatically assumed it would be a minority exam. But in fact in other jurisdictions in countries like Singapore, there are exams which are sat which are reminiscent of the O level, but the majority, 80 per cent of students can pass them. I think that what we need to do is have an exam which has all the rigour of the O level, but which is sat by a majority of students so that we can ensure that everyone is treated fairly.’
He later added that his aim was that this brand new exam ‘should be sat by the overwhelming majority: it’s not the case at the moment that every child sits a GCSE’.
So this isn’t a return to the two-tier system of old, but it looks as though Gove is mooting an exam which the Lib Dems may still find unattractive, that some students will not take. While they are happy with improving the ‘rigour’ of the exam, they are opposed to any system which pushes some children down one route at a certain point: it will be interesting to see whether they try to clarify Gove’s words at some stage today.
UPDATE, 9.55am: I’ve just spoken to a Liberal Democrat source who is closely involved in the discussions around the reform. Their response is: ‘Our bottom line is that we won’t accept a qualification that can’t be accessed by the overwhelming majority of pupils, i.e. it must stretch children and raise aspirations at all ability levels: the O level did that only for high performers.’
It’s interesting both the Lib Dems and Gove are using the phrase ‘overwhelming majority’ to describe the new exam’s appeal. This could still mean, for example, the 80 per cent participation rate that Gove cited in his radio interview.Tags: Education, GCSEs, Michael Gove, UK politics