By Terry Wrigley
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2378

Michael Gove changes GCSEs to make sure more students will fail

This article is over 10 years, 3 months old
Issue 2378
Michael Gove on a rare visit inside a classroom

Michael Gove on a rare visit inside a classroom (Pic: Cabinet Office)

Michael Gove has taken another chaotic step towards undermining state education. He is rushing through another change to GCSE exams. Yet again, teachers are breathlessly trying to catch up.

The latest move is to abandon A*-G grades in favour of 1 to 9. Grade 9 will be the highest—a new grade even higher than A*—and 1 the lowest. This in itself will create chaos, since employers will be confused about the new grades.

Even Ofqual, the official body responsible for the change, has still not worked out what will be the equivalent to a C grade. Students will get letters for some subjects and numbers for others.

Students preparing for GCSE English in summer 2014 were already half way through their course when spoken English marks were removed.  Ofqual warned this could mean 10 percent fewer gaining a C.

The new GCSE in English does not include any coursework either, because written exams are supposed to be fairer.

Teachers are being accused of being too lenient, but exam boards since the 1980s have been guarding against this by sending in teachers from other schools as moderators to ensure equity.

For years teachers have been driven to work harder to improve students’ grades. Now Gove is blaming them for their hard work and accusing them of helping students too much.


The real issue is that schools are threatened with closure or put under private management as academies if they don’t improve exam statistics. Grade inflation does not occur in Scotland, which is not privatising schools.

Now everything will depend on a final exam. It is notoriously unreliable to make a student’s future depend on their health and state of mind on a single day. Final exams also do not reflect real skills as needed in adult life and at work.

Spoken communication is important, and good writing needs the time to redraft and improve on your first attempt. These are now being discounted.

Schools are already boycotting Gove’s changes. Last summer one student in eight was entered for the International GCSE in English, where only half the marks depend on a final exam. That’s more than twice the number of the year before.

Maths GCSE will also be much harder, including many more topics to cover. Other subjects will follow a year later.

Michael Gove must be unique among the world’s education ministers. He actually wants more young people to fail.

All his talk is about ‘raising standards’. The reality is that, with youth unemployment sky high, our rulers would prefer young adults blaming themselves for being on the dole. 

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