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Michael Gove faces backlash as headteachers fear O-level plan will divide classrooms in East Anglian schools

06:30 22 June 2012

Education secretary Michael Gove

Education secretary Michael Gove

Education secretary Michael Gove was last night facing a major backlash from teachers and politicians over his controversial plans to bring back O-levels.

Headteachers in East Anglia voiced fears that ditching GCSEs in favour of O-levels and CSEs would create a classroom divide and risk branding teenagers as failures - while Liberal Democrat leaders attacked the idea and even Downing Street declined to say whether David Cameron approved of Mr Gove’s proposals, or actually knew of them in advance.

Leaked plans of Mr Gove’s intentions to overhaul the exams system and abolish the national curriculum from September 2014 emerged in a national newspaper yesterday.

Education leaders warned they would bring back bad memories of 1980s’ education when students were made to “feel like failures” if asked to study the easier CSEs instead of the tougher O-levels.

The timing of the leak has also been regarded as insensitive, with thousands of pupils preparing to sit their GCSEs.

Victoria Musgrave, Wymondham High School principal, said she felt “extremely sad” as many people still “bear the scars” of the split caused by O-levels and CSEs.

She said: “It seems to me that this would be a retrograde step. What useful purpose will it serve? Mr Gove talks about raising standards and we in schools know that this has been our focus over many years and every time we do what we are bidden, the press have a field day stating ‘examinations are getting easier’ and headlines like ‘dumbing down’, rather than commenting on how hard both students and staff are working.”

Rob Anthony, senior associate headteacher of the Hewett School, Norwich, said it was “right and proper” to review the ways examinations were done - but in a sensible manner with proper consultation.

He said: “It’s reported we are going back to O-levels and CSEs. I remember them as a young person and people doing CSEs felt like they were failures and not worthy of O-levels.

“I am concerned about some aspects while some things are great. I like the idea of getting rid of a national curriculum and freeing things up. That’s a positive.”

Earlier yesterday Mr Gove was hauled before the Commons to answer an urgent question on the shake-up.

Defending his plans, he said: “The truth is we have a two-tier system in education in this country. Some of the most impressive schools have already left GCSEs behind and opted for more rigorous qualifications like IGCSEs.

“While there were undoubtedly improvements in our schools and by our teachers over the course of the last 20 years, those improvements were not sufficient to ensure that we kept pace with other jurisdictions.’’

Conservative MP Graham Stuart, chairman of the cross-party education select committee, said he was sceptical about the proposals which had come “out of the blue’’.

The Lib Dems dismissed the plan as a return to the “two-tier” system of the 1950s, saying no one outside of Tory Cabinet minister Mr Gove’s office appeared to have known it was being considered. “Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems do not want to return to the divisions we saw in the 1950s,” a source said.

Norman Lamb, North Norfolk LibDem MP, said: “I’m yet to see the detail of these proposals but I do favour exacting standards. Whatever means you use to getting strong qualifications that are recognised by universities is ok, but high standards are the important thing.”

Meanwhile a No 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister entirely agrees with the Education Secretary that we need to raise standards. It is the Education Secretary’s job to look at the detail.”

17 comments

  • Another u turn due to public pressure, by a cabinet out of touch. That we have unemployment is not just down to educational standards, it shows that consequetive Governments have interfered too much and didn't get it right. Children need consistency and routine, someone more learned said, so why are we allowing moralisers to chop and change the moment they come into Government? That said, Beccles school shamble belongs to Gove's and the Conservatives, nobody else.

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    ingo wagenknecht

    Friday, June 22, 2012

  • so BG, is it better to keep everyone in the dark? and Ne Absiste, it is not poor education that has left a generation of unemployed, it's the previous generation who didn't invest well, and the greed of the Bankers and others at the top.

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    Martin Scott

    Friday, June 22, 2012

  • There is already a two tier system in place. Some schools offer only a foundation GCSE in subjects where teaching is stretched or limited. Even the brightest pupil can only gain a C grade as the grades are capped. Foundation GCSEs are too basic for bright pupils, and too basic for those wanting to study at A level. Schools like them because it is easier to get a C grade in a foundation GCSE than a higher GCSE. I am not sure schools even have to inform parents that their child will be sitting a foundation or higher GCSE. .

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    Rhombus

    Sunday, June 24, 2012

  • @ Martin Scott. No one was being kept in the dark. The proposals quite rightly were due for publication after the current round of exams, not before. I totally disagree with your assertion that it is not poor education that has left so many of our young people unemployed. We have millions of foreigners working in this country because they are better educated and have, a will do, attitude to life. Many of our young are unemployable because they lack basic work life skills - thanks to Labour`s failed education system. After today I suppose Ed Miliband will be adding education to his every growing list of apologies.

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    BG

    Friday, June 22, 2012

  • Those that can, teach; those that can't become government ministers.

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    NorfOik

    Friday, June 22, 2012

  • The whole system is debased. I have an idea that decades ago degrees were moderated in order to attempt some uniformity between subjects and establishments. Now we have the absurdity of dunderheads with a handful of GCSEs being admitted to the university of toytown and coming out with a first. Now whether anyone believes this is worth the paper it is written in is debatable but is it really the same degree as those who had 4 A* at A level and a First from Oxbridge? It is a joke. So are some NVQs-level three supposedly equal to A levels- when some students who carry them off can barely use joined up writing. I realise they are for vocational skills but one suspects there is a lack of rigour. Labour's everyone can do it led to nurses treating us when it should be a doctor, glorified dinner ladies supervising lessons and stick at your job long enough incompetent management in the public sector. Some things need qualities other than just putting the time in, and academic qualifications ( and practical qualifications) are an example. Not every one can win the egg and spoon , we have to get away from that sort of thinking.

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    Daisy Roots

    Friday, June 22, 2012

  • it's wallowing in a cesspit of mediocrity in our education system that has produced a generation of unemployable dole queue fodder. Teachers are the very last people to listen to on this subject.

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    Ne Absiste

    Friday, June 22, 2012

  • We really can't get away from the fact that at least one subject ie GCSE double science, is so weak that even students who pass at the top grade find the course does not prepare them for A level as well as it could. I suspect, although only sixth forms looking at the statistics could confirm this, that fewer pupils from schools which offer only the double science qualification go on to take science A levels than those from schools which offer single science GCSEs. I wonder how much A level courses across the board have had to accommodate the short comings of the GCSE courses, which are the problem, not the difficulty of the exams.

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    Daisy Roots

    Friday, June 22, 2012

  • All the evidence, international comparisons, etc., point to the fact that our educational standards are not improving but in fact decliing. Universities comment that they having to undertake remedial teaching for new undergrads. And at the same time GCSE results show more and more are achieving higher grades. Clearly all is not well and our young people are being badly let down for their futures. The proposals are a potential welcome step forward and will help all young people far more than so called social engineering ever would. Perhaps that is why Clegg is against it? If the teachers are also against then the proposals must be right!

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    andy

    Friday, June 22, 2012

  • The real story here is who leaked the story. The proposals were not due to be released until July and it appears someone was intent on causing as much mischief as they could. The leaker would have known that the proposals had not been run past the Lib Dems and is this yet another example of a disaffected civil servant, added and abetted by the Daily Mail who have no love of the Lib Dems, trying their best to break up the Coaltion. All a bit of a waste of time as Michael Gove can bring in these changes without parliamentary approval. Gove is quite a strong character and I think how ever much the teachers may not like it will in the end get his way. What`s the alternative another generation of school children too many of whom cannot read or write and add up to competently.

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    BG

    Friday, June 22, 2012

  • Are EDP censoring comments on this article?

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    norman hall

    Friday, June 22, 2012

  • Once the old system of education with Grammar schools and GCE O and A levels was scrapped the dumbing down started. It has sunk so low as to be laughable. Unless the student gains distinction passes in all exams , he or she is deemed to be a failure. The argument against the re-introduction of tougher standards is the same old one that the woolly minded constantly trot out. Namely that less successful students will be automatically be classed as failures. Resulting in a life of misery. Life is about success and failure. It is an every day occurance and some of the most successful people financially and emotionally have very little formal education. I was a product of the old system. And I never felt any envy or sense of failure because I did not achieve the grades of my fellow friends and classmates. What is wrong about the best being streamed into a higher level of education where they belong.

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    norman hall

    Friday, June 22, 2012

  • The education system started to collapse with the introduction of comprehensive education and the removal of Grammar schools. I was the product of the old system and attended Grammar school. For a boy born and bred on a council estate it was of immense pride to me .my parents and neighbours that one of their own accessed higher education. There was no resentment or feeling that other children were deemed a failure. In fact many of my friends who did not attend Grammar schools and aquire any O or A levels became extremely successful businessmen. The woolly minded " experts" who think that a child is doomed to a life of misery for being left behind by their peers have produced a system where it is considered a failure not to have achieved a distinction level pass in all exams. Are we a country of geniuses or a country with a terribly dumbed downed education system?

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    norman hall

    Friday, June 22, 2012

  • @norman hall - I, too, am a Grammar School product. If you encountered no resentment from children who had not passed the 11+ you were fortunate. My mother was visited by the irate mother of a boy in my class who had not achieved a Grammar School place, and was told that education is wasted on girls! My younger sisters (who went to a comprehensive because the system changed) and I all obtained decent degrees. I would not wish to see a return to the socially divisive education this proposal represents..

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    point du jour

    Friday, June 22, 2012

  • I sat and failed the 11 plus. Didn't get to Grammer School and ended up at a comprehensive where I obtained a handful of CSE's. Did I feel resentful? No! I realised that if I wanted a decent chance then I needed to buckle down, stop messing about and work hard. I went to college and gained my O levels and A levels then went off to Portsmouth and achieved my degree in Biophysics. There is absolutely nothing wrong with streaming children and tailoring education to individual strengths. My own children have complained that they have worked jolly hard for their GCSE's - and they have. But would they have worked harder and been more challenged under the old system? I suspect they would as today children are taught the things likely to come up on the exam paper rather than having a broad, sound complete education. (And what really convinced me that teaching today is going the wrong way is when my daughter explained everything they had been tuaght during their 'sex education', but when I asked her to name a few European capitals she couldn't and she had no idea what the Iron Curtain was. Nor could she remember the first 20 elements of the periodic table. She does now - I made sure of that!)

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    smithrob

    Friday, June 22, 2012

  • The only thing the so called teachers are frightened of is that they are incapable of teaching to 'O' level standard

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    "V"

    Friday, June 22, 2012

  • Totally agree with you 'V'. The standard of GCSEs is far below that of the old O Level, and being able to gain the qualification through coursework in addition to an exam is a complete joke. However, I can see thr point of stigmatisation by a two tier system, but, they have to be better than NVQs, which are a total joke, and supposedly the equivalent of 5GCSEs! Saya it all really.

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    Glad I got out of Yarmouth

    Friday, June 22, 2012

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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