Pupils beginning secondary school this year will take the first new exams – in English, maths and sciences – in 2017.
Mr Gove said GCSEs were designed “for a different age and a different world”.
The education secretary said the changes would modernise the exam system “so we can have truly rigorous exams, competitive with the best in the world, and making opportunity more equal for every child”.
Labour’s shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, attacked the plans as “totally out of date, from a Tory-led government totally out of touch with modern Britain”.
He also criticised the repeated leaking of the plans to scrap GCSEs which he said meant that such changes avoided proper parliamentary scrutiny.
Mr Twigg accused the education secretary of trying to introduce changes for future exams while he was still grappling with the “fiasco” of this year’s GCSE results.
Leighton Andrews, education minister in Wales, criticised the plans as a “backwards step” – and said that Wales might keep the GCSE.
Single exam board
The changes, now being put out to consultation, will be introduced from 2015 – with the first candidates taking the new-look exams in 2017.
This will initially be in three core subject areas – English, maths and sciences.
This will be extended later to history, geography and languages – with the suggestion in the consultation that Ofqual should look at how this template might be used for a wider range of subjects.
This will mean that GCSEs will continue for some subjects alongside the new English Bacs over a number of years.
There will be one exam board for these English Bac subjects rather than having different exam boards competing with their own versions.
This follows concerns that such competition leads to a “race to the bottom”, with an incentive for exam boards to attract more business by making it easier to pass.
These are the same subjects that comprise the existing “English Baccalaureate” – a performance measure of schools already introduced by the government.
These English Bac subjects will be assessed entirely by an external examination, with proposals for an end to all internal assessment.
Despite an earlier leak claiming that there would be a two-tier system – similar to the old O-levels and CSEs – the new qualification will be a single exam for a wide range of abilities.
To allow weaker pupils to catch up, the exam might be taken beyond the age of 16 – with the new exams coming alongside the raising of the leaving age to 18.
The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the changes would “raise standards for all our children”, but he added that it would “not exclude any children”.
The changes in England’s examinations mark a widening divide between education systems within the UK – with Wales and Northern Ireland so far not following the changes proposed in England.
The Welsh government says it will not be rushed into following any changes being introduced in England and is carrying out its own separate review into the exam system.
Northern Ireland’s education minister John O’Dowd also said that the “direction of travel” had yet to be decided.
“It is disappointing to note that, once again, Michael Gove has failed to discuss in advance with the devolved administrations proposals of such significance on an issue which also concerns here and indeed Wales,” said Mr O’Dowd.
In Scotland, pupils take Standard Grades, Highers and Advanced Highers rather than GCSEs and A-levels.
Back to the future?
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said GCSEs needed to be reviewed but bringing back an O-level style exam was not the answer.
“I hope that these proposals are not going to be telling us that we’re going to have a system that goes back to something that we used to have in the 1950s, which was suited to a very small part of the population,” he said.
But Anthony Seldon, head teacher of Wellington College, applauded the changes: “It is extraordinary that clapped-out GCSEs have been allowed to continue for so long, when their deficiencies have been known to all for 10 or more years.
“What is imperative is that the English Baccalaureate should be a test of the ability of pupils rather than of their teachers, assessing independence of thought and response rather than be a regurgitation of prepared answers, and that it should develop scholarship and curiosity.”
The National Union of Teachers warned of an “inherent contradiction” in the government’s criticism of GCSEs – saying that it was “nonsensical” to expect higher pass rates from schools while at the same time saying that any such improvement was evidence of exams becoming easier.
Martin Johnson of the ATL teachers’ union warned: “The plans for GCSE replacements are hugely simplistic and fail to recognise the complexity of learning and teaching.”
Chris Keates, head of the Nasuwt teachers’ union said: “The government will have to work hard to ensure that these reforms are not the final nail in the coffin for the provision of a broad and balanced curriculum.”
“Tinkering with exams is a cheap and relatively easy lever for governments, which has been used and over-used in the past couple of decades. What would make a real, long-term difference to raising standards for all children would be improving the teaching and learning in all schools – but that’s long, and hard, and expensive,” said Kevin Stannard of the Girls’ Day School Trust.
Whilst I agree that we all can learn from our past or history let us not forget the wise words:
“Mothers are the nation and fathers are the builders of the nation”
“The Childern of today are our future of tomorrow”
I am not against change as per say but I can tell the difference between right and wrong when it comes to policies.
I concur that there is some sentiment of calling for a national strike from the Left and even from some expected sources from the right I say now is not the time for it nor is there the feeling from the voters to go on a national general strike would damage the economy and because of the anti trade union laws which was brought in legislations by the Thatcher Government no parties are willing to scrap them then there is the issue of Labour Party rules and constitution not forgetting the dreaded cluase4 the party will have to revisit coupled by re-nationalisation of our water, electricity, rail, and coal industries which was privatised by the milk snatcher.
Though you wouldn’t think so from media coverage of the decision by the Brighton TUC to consider the practicalities of calling a general strike, it is a British invention and one that has been successfully exported all over the world.
Just as Britain was the first industrial capitalist power from the late 18th century, so workers began to organise and find ways of trying to make sure that the rise of the market did not mean limitless exploitation.
There was a general strike in Scotland as early as 1820 but the popularisation of the idea is generally credited to the Chartist activist William Benbow.
His pamphlet outlining plans for a Grand National Holiday appeared in the early 1830s, but Benbow, by that time a veteran activist, had been pondering and discussing the ideas involved for many years before that.
The broad point was that all labour should cease until capitalism called it a day.
But ideas and practical strategies are often not quite the same thing, so when the Chartists adopted Benbow’s plan in August 1838 there was an attempt to limit a national strike to a week.
It didn’t work, but the strategy of a general withdrawal of labour remained firmly in place, something to be used occasionally if other things had failed, although still less forceful than the armed rising which the Chartists tried in 1839.
The next general strike was in 1842, and it was probably the biggest anywhere in the world in the 19th century.
Historians have sometimes called it the plug plot because the essential method of prosecuting the strike was for groups of strikers – flying pickets – to go from factory to factory pulling the plugs from the boilers that provided industrial power, and so causing production to stop.
The strike against wage reductions had its impact but remained confined to the industrial north.
With the rise of organised trade unions and the TUC itself from 1868, the responsibility for calling a general strike shifted from below – the 1838 and 1842 strikes originated from the grassroots – to the labour movement leadership after due discussion and democratic decision.
There were still huge – sometimes termed mass – strikes, particularly in the period just before the first world war, but the next official general strike in Britain was in 1926.
Its history, if perhaps not that well known now to many, can easily be checked in books or on the web.
As in 1842, it was a defensive affair designed to stop employers’ attacks, and it failed.
The media will no doubt dwell on that point and argue that this must mean that all attempts at a general strike end in failure, but historically there is little evidence for that.
The next time the TUC called a general strike was in 1972 over the jailing of five dockers in Pentonville.
The strike was set for July 31 1972. On July 28 1972, a mysterious government officer, the official solicitor, appeared and the dockers were released.
The general strike was successful without actually having to take place, although many thousands of workers had walked out in the meantime.
The idea of the co-ordinated political general strike – such as the days of action over the NHS in the 1980s which also fulfilled that criteria – was a particular focus of Tory anti-union legislation in the Thatcher years.
A central aim was to prevent co-ordinated action beyond narrow industrial objectives.
This point is of interest not only because its spectre still haunts our rulers, but also because it tells us that the British labour movement – often characterised as grey, dull and moderate – has some other traditions as well.
So will the people of Britain be pushed toward a general strike this year?
The People’s Charter in Scotland recently stepped up a gear with a new e-petition in the Scottish Parliament and a six-week, rolling campaign to mobilise before the STUC’s anti-austerity demo in Glasgow on October 20.
The petition, which is live online now – calls on the Scottish Parliament to “uw rge the Scottish government to bring forward measures in all areas it has competency to fulfil the aspirations of the People’s Charter.”
Supporters of the Charter in Scotland believe it can play a central part in the debate on the nation’s future before the independence referendum in 2014, as well as a focal point for mobilising against cuts imposed from Westminster or Holyrood – hence the focus on the October 20 demonstration.
Left Labour MSP Neil Findlay has argued that “the People’s Charter provides a vehicle for co-ordinating that action and bringing it together as an alternative to poverty, austerity and inequality. And it is clear that the referendum campaign in Scotland provides an opportunity for us to argue for the kind of society we want to see.”
This Wednesday sees the People’s Charter autumn campaign come to the Scottish Parliament with two public events.
A lunchtime drop-in meeting will bring MSPs together with People’s Charter campaigners to discuss demands and explore practical ways in which the parliament can bring pressure on the government to enact its principles.
Jim Malone of the Fire Brigades Union and Rozanne Foyer of Unite will be among the trade union speakers.
In the evening, an “awareness-raising session” – Scottish Parliament-speak for a public meeting – will take place at 7pm.
Speakers will include Unite deputy regional secretary Mary Alexander, SNP MSP Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Jamie Hepburn, and leading People’s Charter campaigner and Labour MSP for Coatbridge and Chryston Elaine Smith.
Smith has stated that: “The People’s Charter has the potential to transform the political climate, to build confidence that it is possible to create a better, fairer future.”
The potential of the charter to be a vehicle for change has been clear ever since it was endorsed by the TUC in 2009 and the Scottish TUC in 2010.
The charter’s demands are effectively a summation of long-standing policies already adopted by unions north and south of the border.
In Scotland the charter now counts 17 MSPs and three MPs among its supporters, including members from Labour and the SNP, as well as unions, community and political organisations and some high-profile public figures like actors David Hayman and Elaine C Smith, who is never to be confused with her MSP near-namesake.
The Scottish TUC’s active participation in the steering committee of the People’s Charter in Scotland was mandated by another unanimous vote at STUC Congress in Inverness in April this year, on the basis that the demands of the Charter reflect and support the STUC’s own There Is A Better Way anti-austerity campaign.
The STUC’s direct involvement has meant that the People’s Charter autumn campaign is closely linked to the mobilisation for the October 20 demonstration in Glasgow.
Each week in turn from now until the demo – which mirrors the TUC’s October 20 A Future That Works march and rally in London – one of the People’s Charter demands will be the focus of campaigning by various different supporting groups.
A fair economy for a fairer Britain, the charter’s first demand, will be the hook for Scottish TUC activity as the autumn campaign launches this week.
Next week, beginning on September 24, Unite will focus on the “more and better jobs” demand.
In week three from Monday October 1, campaigning charity Positive Action in Housing will promote the call for decent homes for all.
Week four will see public service unions Unison and PCS highlight the demand to protect and improve our public services – no cuts.
In the week before the demo, from Monday October 15, Scottish CND will lead on the People’s Charter call to build a sustainable future for all.
And in the week after the October 20 demos, campaigning journal Scottish Left Review in conjunction with the Jimmy Reid Foundation will pick up the theme of fairness and justice.
The TUC last week argued that the October 20 demonstrations should “mark the beginning of a new unity not only in the struggle against austerity and privatisation, but also for a real alternative – the People’s Charter.”
The People’s Charter in Scotland is picking that challenge up this week. Former RMT organiser Phil McGarry, who now chairs the People’s Charter Scottish committee, is in no doubt as to what has to be done: “Let’s go out there in to the workplaces and communities we’re privileged to represent and build support for these policies.”