BUSINESS leaders last night welcomed the decision to replace GCSEs with a new English Baccalaureate Certificate as the national test for 16- year-olds, a move that the government says will end “the race to the bottom” in exam standards.
Education secretary Michael Gove announced yesterday that children will begin studying for the “EBacc’”qualifications in September 2015 with the majority of students sitting their exams two years later.
Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, welcomed the reforms as a “double win” for the economy and the children who will benefit from them.
“This announcement will undoubtedly help to shore up confidence in the British education system,” he said. “Business leaders want a stronger curriculum and more rigorous exams, and these measures are welcome progress towards delivering that.”
Neil Carberry of the CBI agreed and praised the government’s “focus on delivering rigorous assessment in our school system”.
Under the new system almost all courses will be assessed in a single end-of-year test, there will be no coursework and pupils will no longer be able to retake individual modules in the hope of boosting their final grades.
Gove said the changes were driven by a desire to “to raise aspirations and restore rigour” while meeting the needs of businesses and universities.
“Employers and academics have become less confident in the worth of GCSE passes,” he told the House of Commons. “They fear students lack the skills for the modern workplace and the knowledge for advanced study.
“Today marks the next stage in radical exam reform, to equip children for the 21st century and allow us to compete with the best performing education nations.”
Dr Tim Morgan, head of research at broking giant Tullett Prebon, told City A.M. that tougher marking standards would help businesses: “There’s been grade inflation to the point where there isn’t enough distinction, which affects employers. When everyone’s getting As, Bs and Cs it’s very hard to tell who the brightest youngsters are.”
But he said more radical education reforms were needed to find Britain’s future business leaders: “We are losing ground because we need a system that discovers and nurtures the brightest children. We’ve got this fear of elitism which has become a fear of success.”
At first only the core subjects of English, mathematics and the sciences will be taught using the new EBacc format. History, geography and languages are expected to follow soon afterwards, with GCSEs continuing in parallel during the transition period.
In an attempt to end competition between rival exam boards – which has been blamed for encouraging grade inflation – there will be only one administrator for each subject, with competitive tendering for the right to hold a five-year monopoly to set each exam.
But James Croft, director of The Centre for Market Reform of Education, said that firms should be seeking a more direct role in the exam system: “It’s an easy solution for business but what they really need to do is be engaged into shaping what they want out of qualifications. I don’t think the answer is to cede more power to government. They might end up setting the bar too high and there’ll be too few people for businesses to chose from.
“We’ve got a false goal – you can’t equalise opportunities. We’d be better to have a variety of different assessments, including some that stretch the high-end and some for the majority.”
Although the reforms represent the biggest qualifications shake-up in a generation it is understood that Liberal Democrat opposition has blocked some of Gove’s more radical proposals and ensured that they are not introduced until the end of the current parliament.