Why Gove's Baccalaureate was doomed to fail

Feb 7, 2013

Gove's ambition to scrap GCSEs for new exam faced opposition from regulator, the EU and MPs

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EVEN FOR Michael Gove, it was a "bridge too far". Instead of scrapping GCSEs in favour of an English Baccalaureate certificate (Ebacc), the Education Secretary told MPs today he would focus on reforming GCSEs instead.

Under his original plan, launched last September, the Ebacc would have been introduced in 2015 in three core subjects - English, maths and science – for examination in 2017. The exams would have been extended later to languages and either history or geography.

So, why Gove's U-turn? Because virtually no one liked the idea:

The regulators. Glenys Stacey, chief executive of the exam regulator Ofqual, effectively told Gove his plan was unworkable in December 2012, The Guardian notes. Stacey said she was sympathetic to the Education Secretary's aims but ultimately his Ebacc ambition "may exceed what is realistically achievable through a single assessment". Gove admitted that, because of the umbrella nature of the exam, some children would leave school with no qualification.

The European Union. One factor cited in dropping the plans is that the decision to have one exam board for each topic, as planned, could fall foul of EU procurement law – something the government was especially wary of following the fiasco over the West Coast mainline franchise.

The teachers. Gove's U-turn was greeted with "delight" by Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, who said there was "a big coalition" amongst education professionals that the Ebacc was "entirely the wrong" exam to introduce. The National Association of Head Teachers had voiced concerns that sport and art would be undermined, the Daily Telegraph noted. The Catholic Education Service asked why religious studies were not included.

The Lib Dems. The Ebacc project was born out of Nick Clegg's demand that Gove water down his plans to bring back an O-level type system. It became an "unworkable compromise", the Daily Mail says. Today Clegg praised Gove, saying he had "listened" and "reacted" to criticism.

The Opposition. The cross-party Education Select Committee warned Gove last month to shelve the plan, with MPs saying the Ebacc would marginalise sport and art as well as "threaten the stability of the wider exam system, including A-levels". Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said the CBI had made it clear in November it was opposed to the changes, saying the Ebacc would fail "to do enough to prepare young people for the world of work and to succeed in life", The Guardian reports.

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