Liberal Democrats are determined to ensure that all our pupils can access qualifications that measure up to the best in the world today.
But existing GCSEs have weakened over time. Colleges and employers tell us they don’t prepare young people properly for work or further education. While GCSE results have increased steadily, England’s results in the internationally recognised PISA tests have remained flat. This cannot be fair for young people who are working hard to achieve their best.
GCSEs need to change: the question is how.
The original plan to bring back the O-Level was unacceptable. A two-tier system that divides pupils into winners and losers belongs firmly in the past. O-Levels will not return with Liberal Democrats in Government.
So, we spent last Summer in discussions with Michael Gove and produced proposals that would restore rigour and raise standards – but without leaving any pupil behind. We agreed with the Conservatives that we would consult widely and seek the views of parents and teachers.
We have listened to what that consultation told us and agreed a pragmatic approach to reform GCSEs, including in creative subjects and design and technology. We will move away from higher and lower tier papers that stop some pupils getting higher than a grade C. We will end modular exams but maintain coursework where it is essential, and we will make GCSEs as challenging as exams in other countries.
And, crucially, we will ensure that no child will be left behind.
Reformed GCSEs will be sat by the same number of children as now. Building on the Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment, a new system of school accountability will reward schools for all children who make progress – whether they are set for an A but push themselves to achieve an A*, or set to fail but work hard and achieve a grade. And a slimmer curriculum focussed on the essentials – another Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment – will give teachers more freedom to adapt their lessons to the individual children in their class.
A world class education system that is ambitious for every child: this is the Liberal Democrat message on education and it is the foundation of the reforms we have announced today.
David Laws is Liberal Democrat Minister of State for Schools