Posted on 21st June 2012
The Big GCSE Debate
Tension between the Tories and Lib Dems has drastically increased in the last 24 hours. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has very publically and stridently lambasted education secretary, Michael Gove’s plans to scrap the GCSEs and replace them with examinations similar to the 1950s-style O-Levels and CSEs.
Nick Clegg was outraged that he had not been consulted, and declared that Michael Gove’s plan was “self-evidently not policy that has been discussed or agreed within the coalition”. Clegg has been explicit in his criticism of Gove’s plans, saying, “I am not in favour of anything that would lead to a two-tier system where children at quite a young age are somehow cast on a scrap heap.” As well as disagreeing with Gove’s ideas, Clegg appears to be particularly irate because the plans were not discussed with the Liberal Democrats prior to Gove’s announcement.
Michael Gove’s plans are to introduce ‘tougher’ exams for pupils in year 11, and ‘more straightforward’ exams for less academic students, creating a ‘two tier’ system. Critics are saying that the changes would signal a move back to what we saw in the 1950s, when there was a great deal of division and inequality in the education system, which permitted many schoolchildren to get ‘left behind’.
Nick Clegg isn’t the only politician who is not keen on the plans, and members of Gove’s own party are also concerned. Conservative MP Graham Stuart told BBC Radio 4 that he was “sceptical” of the education secretary’s proposals. His chief worry is that he doesn’t think it will “close the gap between rich and poor” and “increase social mobility”, which is ideally what good education should do. Over in Wales, education minister Leighton Andrews has explicitly said that Welsh schools will not change back to O-Levels.
Despite the vociferous criticism from other MPs, Gove is adamant that the examination system needs reforming, declaring in Parliament today that, “Children are working harder than ever but we are hearing that the system is not working for them. We want to tackle the culture of competitive dumbing down.”
I am fascinated to see what will happen to Gove’s plans after this incendiary response. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on whether GCSEs need major rethinking and if a return to O Levels is the answer. Let us know your opinions.