Oral statement to Parliament

Oral statement by Michael Gove on education reform

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, today set out plans for reformed GCSEs.

Mr Speaker.

With your permission I should like to make a statement on the future of examinations.

There is now a widespread consensus - underpinned by today’s persuasive report from the Education Select Committee - that we need to reform our examination system to restore public confidence.

That is why today we are publishing draft details of new GCSE content in core academic subjects.

And the independent regulator Ofqual is publishing its own consultation on the regulation of reformed GCSEs.

We are publishing the draft content in English, maths, science, history, geography and modern and ancient languages alongside this statement.

We will consult on that content over the next 10 weeks.

We expect these subjects (with the exception of languages) to be ready for first teaching in September 2015, with the first exams being taken in summer 2017.

Languages and other subjects will follow soon after, with first teaching from September 2016 and first exams being taken from summer 2018.

The new subject content published today has been drawn up in collaboration with distinguished subject experts - whom I would like to thank.

In line with our changes to the national curriculum, the new specifications are more challenging, more ambitious and more rigorous.

That means more extended writing in subjects like English and history; more testing of advanced problem-solving skills in mathematics and science; more testing of mathematics in science GCSEs, to improve progression to A Levels; more challenging mechanics problems in physics; a stronger focus on evolution and genetics in biology; and a greater focus on foreign language composition, so that pupils require deeper language skills.

This higher level of demand will equip our children to go onto higher education or a good apprenticeship - and we can raise the bar knowing that we have the best generation of teachers ever in our schools to help students achieve more than ever before.

Our education reforms - the growth in the number of academies and free schools, the improvements in teacher recruitment and training and sharper accountability from improved league tables and a strengthened Ofsted - are raising standards in schools. That means new GCSEs will remain universal qualifications - accessible, with good teaching, to the same proportion of pupils as now.

The specifications we are publishing today also give awarding organisations a clearer indication of our expectations in each subject.

Under the previous system, specifications were too vague. This caused suspicion and speculation that some exam boards were ‘harder’ than others, undermining the credibility of the exam system as a whole.

Including more detail in our requirements for subject content will ensure greater consistency and fairness across subjects and between exam boards.

By reducing variability in the system, we can ensure that all young people leave school with qualifications respected by employers, universities and further education.

While making GCSE content more rigorous, we must also correct the structural problems with GCSEs that we inherited.

As today’s report from the Select Committee confirms, the problems with English GCSE generated last summer proved beyond any doubt that the current system requires reform.

Both the Select Committee report and Ofqual recognise that controlled assessment (which counted for 60% of the English GCSE qualification) undermined the reliability of the assessment as a whole.

That’s why I asked Ofqual to review the regulatory framework for GCSEs:

To judge how we might limit course work and controlled assessment;

And also to reflect on how we could lift a cap on aspiration by reducing the two tier structure of some GCSEs.

I also asked Ofqual to explore how we might reform our grading structure better to reflect the full range of student ability and reward the very best performers.

Ofqual’s consultation sets out how reformed GCSEs can be more rigorous and stretching, and encourage students to develop and demonstrate deep understanding.

It is proposed that course work and controlled assessment will largely be replaced by linear, externally marked end-of-course exams.

It is proposed that the current two tier system will end except where it is absolutely essential - in maths and science.

In those subjects, Ofqual is consulting on how to improve the current arrangements to deal with the concerns we have expressed about capping aspiration.

Ofqual is also consulting on a new grading system which gives fairer recognition to the whole ability range.

Young people in this country deserve an education system that can compete with the best in the world, a system which sets - and achieves - high expectations.

Today’s reforms are essential to achieve this goal. By making GCSEs more demanding, more fulfilling, and more stretching we can give our young people the broad, deep and balanced education which will equip them to win in the global race.

I commend this statement to the House.