New exam system fails

Claire Holden finds academics critical of Michael Gove's plans to replace GCSEs

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The English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBC) that will replace GCSEs will put undue pressure on young people to perform in examinations, an education expert has warned.

Education secretary Michael Gove last month announced plans to reform the education system by introducing the EBC, a certificate that will match what are considered to be the high standards of Key Stage 4 qualifications across the world.

The EBC will measure the success of students who achieve grade A*-C in core academic subjects, including English, maths, the sciences, history, geography and languages.

Gove also said the new system would entail a more rigorous exam system. It is currently possible under GCSEs to sit papers of differing ability levels but pupils sitting the ECB will all sit the same exams, in order to make comparisons between pupils more equal.

Coursework eliminated

Coursework will be eliminated in order to free up teaching time and to reduce the risk of plagiarism. Instead EBC students will be judged solely on their performance in end of year exams that will form the entirety of the student’s grade, as re-sits will also be scrapped.

The Department for Education believes this will encourage young people from under-privileged backgrounds to take up more academic subjects, as many existing vocational qualifications are not enough to get a young person into higher education or a job.

But Valerie Farnsworth, a research fellow in 14-19 education and training at Leeds University, said: “The system needs to reduce division but the EBC doesn’t seem to take that argument,” she said. “Instead it is about increasing competition.

“A system that determines that kind of pressure is not a good thing. It leaves people unable to participate in some kinds of education.”

Because of the focus on a core group of what have been deemed more academic subjects, it is feared that students may not be encouraged as much in other subjects such as music, drama, RE, PE and ICT.

‘Nail in coffin’

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, the largest 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.

“The secretary of state must avoid the dangerous view that terminal examinations have intrinsically more merit than coursework.”

Farnsworth added that the proposal to use exams as the only way of testing students’ attainment is built on an assumption that an objective measure of learning is needed.

“Can we be sure they are not discriminating between students in ways that are not objective, but political?” she said. “My response would be no, we can’t be sure.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “The EBCs, because they will be more rigorous and of high quality, will drive improvements in all qualifications, and act as a benchmark against which they will be measured.”

The EBC will be introduced in 2015, with the first set of students to be assessed in 2017.

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