David Laws MP writes… Ambitious for every child

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

* David Laws is Liberal Democrat Minister for Schools.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Feb '13 - 6:44pm

    @ David Laws: ” a new system of school accountability will reward schools for all children who make progress” – this is be greatly welcomed – now children can have their achievements in a wider range of subjects than the crude 5 A* – C grades – a liberal and progressive move.

    “But existing GCSEs have weakened over time” – I I think the real point is that there became too strong a link between the performance tables and the exam boards – the pressure for results led to exam boards drawing up more and more syllabus options to attract schools. This became a real weakness in the system.

    However, for me the devil is still in the detail of Gove’s new ‘rigorous exams’ – is this a euphemism for a return to O Level-style assessments and a content or fact driven linear curriculum?

    It would be regressive to load the programme of study with ‘hard facts’ at the expense of understanding, analysis and evaluation skills – key skills in the third humanity (Religious Studies GCSE), for example, as well as History and Ancient History.

  • Tom Southern 8th Feb '13 - 9:28am

    David, please could you explain how reducing coursework will help prepare students for later life when it is a major element of most university courses? If students are unprepared to do coursework at Uni they will fail, Full stop.

  • Keith Browning 8th Feb '13 - 10:38am

    Surely ‘project work’, ‘practical work’, ‘field work’, ‘oral/aural’ skills etc are all important ingredients of a rounded education and an essential ingredient of further education and later, in the big wide world. All might come under the umbrella of ‘coursework ‘. Why wouldn’t you want to test all these skills and abilities at some point. You could write a three hour essay on ‘how to learn to swim’, but it wouldn’t necessarily help you as a passenger on the Titanic.

  • Helen Tedcastle 8th Feb '13 - 11:40am

    I agree with Tom Southern and Keith Browning. Coursework is a very useful and effective tool in the learning process in many subjects. The return to linear exams, linear learning , over-loaded (with facts) specifications of study, is another plank of Michael Gove’s ‘revolution,’ which is controversial and unproven. This does not mean that no reform is needed. Teachers are favourable to changes but they need to be backed up with incontrovertible evidence.

    It is absolutely essential that Michael Gove listens to the profession. I’m not sure yesterday’s announcement was a listening exercise by the Education Secretary – the evidence and opposition to his plan was so overwhelming, he had little choice but to backtrack.

    The plans for EBCs and the obdurate manner of the Secretary of State over the past few month, even years, has done considerable damage – to decent exams, to good and useful subjects, to the confidence and trust of pupils and parents in the education system.

    It’s important that the Government learns from this and should changes be needed to the curriculum, they should be made in the best interests of all pupils and with the backing of the education profession. As Liberal Democrats, it is important that we continue to be seen to do this – we have lost a great deal of support and trust amongst teachers.

    There is much bridge-building to do…

  • This government is very lucky to have David Laws in Education.

  • Peter Watson 9th Feb '13 - 5:04pm

    @mpg “This government is very lucky to have David Laws in Education.”
    Why, exactly?
    Or do you mean that the rest of government is lucky to have him in Education?

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