Michael Gove intends to scrap GCSEs and bring back O-levels in two years time, in the most radical overhaul of the exams system for over 30 years.
Under the new proposals, pupils will begin studying for "explicitly harder" exams modelled on the traditional O-levels from September 2014, and the first cohort will sit the new exams in core subjects in 2016.
In what will be seen as an attempt to raise standards, the aim of the new exams is to "meet or exceed the highest standards in the world for that age group", according to leaked documents seen by the Daily Mail.
The documents also reveal the proposal of a two-tier system, with some students still being able to sit what Mr Gove considers to be 'dumbed down' GCSEs.
The National Curriculum in secondary schools will be abolished under the education secretary's plans, as well as the requirement that pupils obtain five good GCSEs graded A* to C. The new O-level style exams would be set and monitored by one single exam board.
The education secretary has already made changes to current GCSEs, including scrapping the modular system, and November's white paper signalled major reforms, but the decision to bring back O-levels (though possibly under the same GCSE title) is the most dramatic. Since taking office he has made it clear that he favours more traditional teaching methods, believing the current education system lacks the rigour of previous years, and that the creation of GCSEs in the 1980s was a "historic mistake" by the Conservatives, leading to a fall in standards.
Core subjects - English, maths, physics, chemistry and biology - will be the first to be overhauled.
The changes will also see a return to individual examinations in physics, chemistry and biology instead of a single, combined science qualification, and O-levels will also be drawn up eventually for history, geography and modern languages.
Mr Gove is said to be preparing to announce his plans formally in the next two weeks before launching a 12-week consultation. None of the changes require legislation.
Broad vs narrow education
The shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said that the plans raised questions about whether the proposed changes to GCSE exams would prepare pupils for the world of work.
"To succeed in the modern world, young people need a broad education, not a narrow one. Will pupils doing these new exams get access to creative or innovative learning that will create the jobs of the future?" he said.
"Will this divide children at 14 into winners and losers? With no secondary national curriculum how will he ensure a rigorous approach to learning in all schools? If there is to be a major overhaul parents will want reassurance that the new system will enable all children to progress and reach their full potential."
A Department for Education spokesman said: "We do not comment on leaks."
31 January 2012
03 April 2012