Nick Clegg and Michael Gove will announce their joint plans to reform GCSEs today, a day earlier than they had originally intended. The Deputy Prime Minister appeared alongside the Education Secretary this morning on a school visit, while Gove will make a statement in the Commons this afternoon to announce the changes, which Liberal Democrats are claiming as a victory after the initial row over a possible return to a two-tier system. Clegg told reporters this morning:
‘I think you can raise standards, increase rigour and confidence in our exam system, but still do so in a way which is a single-tier, which covers the vast majority of children in this country. And those are the principles upon which this whole reform will be based.’
Because the details of the new exams – with the exception of a proper name for what are now popularly known as Gove-levels – were given a good hearing in the Mail on Sunday yesterday, the two big questions for today will firstly be whether, in spite of all this healthy proalition agreement, Gove wishes he could have had his way on the system he initially proposed back in June and would like a future majority Conservative government to push reforms even further, and also – more importantly – whether Stephen Twigg will commit to a Labour government continuing the reforms in 2015.
Pupils will only start preparing for the exams from September of that year, which means the first act of any Labour-lead administration could be t scrap them. So far Twigg has said that it is unfair to leak the details of the overhaul while the row over the GCSE English results from this year continues (although Gove would argue that this current row shows that politicians need to jolly well get on with the reforms as soon as possible), and that ‘it is not clear how this new system will ensure a breadth of knowledge and skills and that pupils continue studying English and Maths until age 18’. When that detail emerges, the pressure will be on Twigg to clarify whether Labour is on board with these reforms.
UPDATE, 11.40am: Stephen Twigg has responded to the reforms, and is continuing to warn that they will lead to a two-tier system.
‘The problem with these changes are they are totally out of date, from a Tory-led Government totally out of touch with modern Britain. Whatever the reassurances, this risks a return to a two-tier system which left thousands of children on the scrap heap at the age of 16. Why else are the changes being delayed until 2017?
‘Schools do need to change as all children stay on in education to 18 and we face up to the challenges of the 21st Century. We won’t achieve that with a return to the 1980s. Instead, we need a system that promotes rigour and breadth, and prepares young people for the challenges of the modern economy.’
So that’s a no, then.