Gove forced into GCSE U-turn ‘under Lib Dem pressure’

The morning’s big news is that Conservative education secretary Michael Gove is set to announce a U-turn today on his plans to scrap the current GCSE exams and replace them with a new EBacc qualification in 2015. Here‘s how the Independent reports it:

The Education Secretary bowed to overwhelming pressure for a rethink from Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, the exams regulator Ofqual and MPs from all parties. It is understood that he decided to act after being warned by civil servants that one key plank of his reforms – handing each of the core subjects over to just one exam board – could breach European Union rules on public service contracts and be open to judicial review.

Today’s dramatic U-turn follows a cacophony of opposition to plans for the new EBacc certificate – which would have been awarded in the five core academic areas of English, maths, the sciences, languages and a humanities subject (history or geography).

It is the second time the Liberal Democrats have forced a retreat by Mr Gove, a close ally of David Cameron who is regarded by the Prime Minister as one of his most successful reforming ministers. Last year, Mr Clegg blocked Mr Gove’s plans to replace GCSEs with a two-tier exam system that was criticised as a return to O-levels and CSEs.

The Education Secretary will press ahead with moves to reduce the role played by coursework in qualifications at 16 after saying that modules encourage “bite-sized learning and spoon-feeding”. He will also reaffirm his intention to reform the national curriculum.

You can read how David Laws’ outlined the now scrapped new system last September here.

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  • There seems to be confusion between the EBacc and The EBC. As I understand it EBacc is about league table position in the five ‘traditional subjects and EBC is (was?) a while new qualification to replace GCSEs but only in certain ‘prestige’ subjects.

  • The EBacc is still creating a two tier system. Gove has only u-turned on the rushed new qualifications. It is a welcome u-turn, but some (difficult and important) subjects are still being punished by an outdated and outmoded view of education which is about the Ed Sec deciding what everyone should learn and – by extension – what they shouldn’t learn.

  • Martin Lowe 7th Feb '13 - 9:43am

    Gove’s great – if you want to turn the clock back to the 1950s. But it isn’t the 1950s, and his proposals aren’t fit for 21st Century Britain.

    If we now mandate education until the age of 18, then there is little point in retaining exams for 16-year-olds. Can anyone else think of a nation that does this?

    His tinkering is merely a continuation of New Labour policy save for increased access for the private sector and the destruction of economies of scale mechanisms. The fact that the Liberal Democrats have allowed him free rein is a major black mark against them, and something I cannot defend.

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Feb '13 - 9:55am


    Gove is one of the titan’s of this government

    I hope that more concentration on English grammar will ensure everyone in future will know how to use apostrophes correctly.

  • Alex Baldwin 7th Feb '13 - 10:05am

    I completely agree with Martin Lowe. I would wager that anyone who goes onto college never needs to use their GCSEs past satisfying college entrance requirements, which could be done as well with a far less onerous system. For those who do not go on to further education I have never seen a job advertised where you need to prove anything beyond literacy and numeracy (GCSE English and Maths).

  • I stand corrected at the moment – some of these changes are better than I thought and will include creative subjects.

  • Peter Watson 7th Feb '13 - 11:48am

    Exactly what evidence is there that this latest rethink was due to pressure from Nick Clegg and senior Lib Dems, who actually seemed supportive of the Gove’s proposals (after earlier negotiations).
    I understand that they forced Gove’s EBCs to have a single exam paper for all abilities, which simply seemed to be making a bad idea worse. In January the Times Ed reported “Indeed, Lib Dem schools minister David Laws seems to be one of the few people happy with the latest version of the proposals.” ( and last year Laws appeared supportive of what Gove was doing (
    It would be nice to know exactly what Lib Dem policy is on this, as at a senior level the party appears to be trying to take credit for moves in every direction.

  • “g 7th Feb ’13 – 8:41am
    Nick Clegg supported the Ebacc, why are you claiming that the lib dems rejected it?

    In other news, the Eastleigh bye-election is to be held in 28th February 😉

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Feb '13 - 12:18pm

    @jedibeeftrix – “Gove is one of the titan’s of this government” – an extraordinary comment – and this on the day that Gove has been forced to concede that EBCs would seriously damage education for thousands of young people.

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Feb '13 - 12:23pm

    @ Henry: ” The EBacc is still creating a two tier system. Gove has only u-turned on the rushed new qualifications. It is a welcome u-turn, but some (difficult and important) subjects are still being punished ”

    You seem to be right as Gove was coy in the Commons when asked about the performance measures – it is still unclear whether schools will be allowed to treat creative arts and academic humanities outside the EBacc as equal. He needs to be pinned down by the Lib Dems on this issue – as division is still in place in the tables.

  • Steve Griffiths 7th Feb '13 - 12:32pm


    “Gove is one of the titan’s of this government”.

    Surely you mean dinosaur?

  • David Allen 7th Feb '13 - 12:32pm

    Independent: “The Education Secretary bowed to overwhelming pressure for a rethink from Nick Clegg….”

    BBC website: “Lib Dem sources indicated they regarded this as a coalition decision not a policy victory for their party..”

    So, mixed messages about why it happened, alongside mixed messages as to whether Lib Dems themselves have changed their minds. Actually, I suspect the Lib Dems deserve a bit of credit this time, for fighting their corner within the Coalition. But with news management like this, they ain’t going to get it.

  • Bill Chapman 7th Feb '13 - 12:34pm

    Martin Lowe is right. The LibDems should not be working with a man so out of touch and so out of his depth. Where’s the moption of no confidence?

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Feb '13 - 12:48pm

    @ Martin Lowe: Your comments, sadly are absolutely correct. In all honesty, Nick Clegg should have seen through the proposals from Gove long ago – it should never have got this far. However, there are still question marks over the performance measures and the place of creative arts and RS in these measures.

    The reason this is important is that these measures will significantly influence the time, resources, staffing of each subject. If the EBacc subjects are still published separately, this means Music, Art, RS will be penalised – unfairly in my view – and it will effect standards over time in those subjects.

  • Peter Watson 7th Feb '13 - 12:58pm

    I love the Daily Mail headline “GCSEs will NOT be axed after Lib Dems and EU force Gove to abandon return to O-levels” ( in which they manage to blame the two of the paper’s biggest bugbears for scuppering their hero’s plans. I guess they would not want to blame Labour or teaching unions and risk suggesting that Gove could be beaten by those particular enemies.

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Feb '13 - 4:17pm

    @ Jedibeeftrix: ” @ helen and steve – i cannot agree, as the son of a teacher (biology ) i feel i am well acquainted with educational decline in the last decades.”

    Hold on, what does that actually mean? Gove cannot substantiate it with reliable data over time (30 years) so what is your evidence?

    Why is it that those who benefited from a selective education, which loaded success on a small number and wrote off the majority – give such a hard time to the thousands of hard-working young people in our state schools?

    Reforms are needed to GCSEs and they will now happen. We have the best teaching force we have ever had. Back in the days of the Grammars, there was no Ofsted – no one checked up on failing teachers.

    So we will never know whether teachers in the ‘golden age’ were any better than today’s highly accountable, highly qualified teachers.

  • Great stuff.
    I don’t know where the idea that Gove is some sort great educator comes from. He’s a journalist. and thinks like one. Make a big headline grabbing statement based on appealing to a mixture of nostalgia and prejudice and look la bit useless when shown actual evidence by people who actually know what they are talking about.
    His climb down on this issue is the result of having the short comings of his shallow thought process pointed out to him. I only wish someone would take Mr Osbourne aside and do the same thing.

  • Martin Lowe 7th Feb '13 - 4:52pm


    You’re absolutely right in pointing out Michael Gove does not decide policy on the basis of evidence but instead makes it up as he goes along.

    Judging by his pronouncements whilst in office, these ideas are based on having watched old episodes of ‘Please Sir!’ and having been schmoozed by whoever buys him dinner.

    Idiots lap up the “Gove vs the Lefties” schtick, but he and Stephen Twigg are two sides of the same coin – a system that on one hand strives for teachers to be experts in education and their subject matter, yet micro-manages their every move from central government by means of the sprawling quango OFSTED (a job-creation scheme for failed teachers).

    Labour and the Conservatives have taken turns in cocking up education for decades, and we should have no part of this.

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Feb '13 - 5:17pm

    @jedibeeftrix: I simply point out that one cannot meaningfully compare systems between eras, especially when they were quite different and aimed to produce different outcomes .

    @ Martin Lowe: I agree the micro-managing by both parties has been detrimental to schools, although this Education Secretary in particular has pushed the system to breaking point.

    I thought Stephen Twigg’s speech today was the most critical I have heard from him – ultra-Blairite as he is, even he could muster some anger at Gove’s antics. I am still cautious – I want to see all the details of Gove’s plans for GCSEs and look at the performance measures in more detail.

  • Richard Dean 7th Feb '13 - 6:12pm

    Rather than focus on improving exams, would it not be better to focus on improving teaching? By better training for teachers, by refresher training, by more classroom and support resources, and by better compensation?

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Feb '13 - 8:20pm

    @ Richard Dean: Yes the quality of teaching and assessment of learning are both central – that’s why Gove’s linear model is not the only solution in assessment. I think on-going teacher-training is essential for improved practice.

    Unfortunately, training is usually the first budget to be cut when savings have to be made. Perhaps if the Government developed a training entitlement for every teacher (and the money was ring-fenced), teachers might just get the development training they require.

  • Richard Harris 7th Feb '13 - 8:34pm

    Yet another attempt at presenting the LibDems as preventing an evil Tory from carrying out his evil policy. Still the case that the evil tory is only an evil tory minister because of this party’s support. Pretty sure I remember seeing Mr. Clegg standing right beside Gove when he announced his reforms in the first place….

  • I understood that there was no pressure from the Lib. Dems. Anyway that’s what the BBC reported.

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