ATL, NASUWT and NUT say changes will create two-tier system and scapegoat students


Teaching unions have lined up to condemn Michael Gove’s plans scrap GCSEs.

The education secretary wants to replace the exams with an English Baccalaureate Certificate in what he says is an attempt to end “dumbing down” and improve standards.

But unions have been quick to criticise the plans, saying they will create a two-tier system, and scapegoat teachers and students who have worked hard to achieve good results in recent years.

NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: “The premise for these changes appear to be based on the rather spurious reason that too many pupils are succeeding.

“There is an inherent contradiction at the heart of Michael Gove’s criticism of GCSEs. On the one hand he demands ever higher pass rates, yet when this is achieved, claims that it can only have occurred due to examinations becoming too easy.

“This is a nonsensical approach. Parents and carers know how hard their children work for GCSEs and how ‘rigorous’ the exams are. Ministers need to recognise that it is through sheer hard work and determination that pupils and teachers are achieving great results.

“What is being proposed here is blatantly a two-tier system. Pupils who do not gain EBacc Certificates will receive a record of achievement which will most certainly be seen to be of far less worth by employers and colleges.

“Placing a cap on those who can gain top grades means that many students will miss out on the recognition and opportunities they deserve and harks back to a time when only a few were expected to go on to higher education.

“There needs to be serious engagement with the profession on the curriculum, in conjunction with engagement on assessment. Teachers are not mere ‘deliverers’ of knowledge but are there to inspire and motivate their students with a curriculum that is for everyone and not just for the few.

“In the 21st Century we need young people to take all the opportunities for education available to them. Setting up examination systems to ensure only a few succeed is counterproductive. Before any changes are made to the examination system they need to be thoroughly tried and tested, not rushed through to tie in with an election year. What is needed now is a thorough review of 14-19 education which successive governments have failed to do.”

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “These proposals are entirely driven by political ideology rather than a genuine desire to reform the examination system in the best interests of children and young people.

“The Secretary of State has embarked from the outset on a cynical and wholly unjustifiable attempt to discredit the quality and rigour of the GCSE qualification.

“Instead of celebrating the hard work of teachers and pupils in securing sustained improvements in GCSE pass levels, he has sought to claim the improvements are merely the result of a ‘dumbed down’ GCSE qualification that has become increasingly easier to pass.

“One of the more regrettable aspects of the current controversy on the grading of English GCSE is that it has provided the golden opportunity for the Secretary of State to press ahead with his claims that GCSEs are no longer robust or fit for purpose and to ‘reform’ the system.

“However, the plain truth, as the Secretary of State knows, is that there is absolutely no evidence that standards associated with the GCSE qualification have declined over time or that the current examinations system is broken.

“A further deep concern is the plight of those young people set to take GCSEs in the next two years. They have now been told publicly that the exams for which they are working on are discredited and worthless.

“The actions of the Secretary of State in this regard are unacceptable and the lack concern for the impact and motivation of young people and teachers working towards GCSEs is disgraceful.

“It is entirely legitimate for all those with a stake in the examinations system to debate the role and purpose of the qualifications system and how it might continue to evolve in future.

“However, unlike the pronouncements made yesterday, it is essential that any discussion of the future of GCSEs is informed by evidence rather than by assertion and rhetoric. Once again the Liberal Democrats have capitulated to enable yet another damaging Tory education policy to progress.”

ATL deputy general secretary Martin Johnson said:  “Once again Michael Gove is a man in a rush to stamp his impression on education in the UK regardless of whether it is in children’s best interests. The plans for GCSE replacements are hugely simplistic and fail to recognise the complexity of learning and teaching.  The government has failed to think through how qualifications and the secondary curriculum need to work together to develop the knowledge and skills young people need.

“O-levels were abolished 25 years ago for a very good reason: they just tested memory and essay writing, which are not crucial skills for the majority of jobs or life today. ATL, and a growing group of others, believe that we no longer need an exam at the age of 16 because few youngsters leave education and training then.

“However, if England does have an exam at 16, it should be suitable for almost everyone and assess the wide range of skills, knowledge and abilities needed in today’s world, including communication and interpersonal skills, creativity and initiative. We want everyone in England to be well educated.  The days of an exam system for an elite should be over.

“Of course any exams need to be rigorous, but there are strong arguments for using a range of methods of assessment and some subjects are not best tested by a three hour written exam. We have concerns about moving to one exam board per subject because it risks losing innovation in exams and making exams even more expensive for schools.

“It is essential that Michael Gove sets out what will happen to GCSEs before 2015 so that children taking exams before then are not disadvantaged by his changes when they apply for university, jobs and apprenticeships in the future.”


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