Michael Gove recently retreated on certain key aspects of his planned reforms of GCSEs in England and Wales. The Ebacc and the elimination of exam board competition are no longer going to happen. As far as the former goes, it would not have mattered, since the effects would have been negligible. But the latter was essential, and without it, his education reforms are doomed to failure.
The idea, firstly, that his reforms would have been pernicious, is just plain nonsense; the Ebacc would have been the GCSE under a different name, a one-size-fits-all exam that has to be easy enough for the least capable, and so cannot, by its very nature, challenge the most capable. That he wishes to make these exams more rigorous is admirable, but as long as the GCSE is one examination for all, this is simply unworkable.
There are those who pronounce that the alternative would be a two-tier education system, as if that attestation in itself were an iteration so damnable as to be not susceptible of any response. But they ignore the fact that there already is under the GCSE and would continue to be under the Ebacc, a two-tier system. Except that the current education system is far more demoralising than anything which preceded it, for under this structure those at the bottom not only know that they are not as clever but must have this fact constantly ground in their face by the fact that they are literally denied a top grade.
Under the O-levels and CSEs, a student taking the CSE could attain a grade 1 (the top), it might not be the equivalent of an O-level grade 1, but they could take pride in their own achievement; now, the most any less capable student can be awarded is a grade C. What is more fair then, I ask you, an explicitly two-tier system that allows each to excel in his/her own way, or a system that preaches equality but is so easily revealed to be mendacious?
In terms of the elimination of exam board competition, however, a genuine difference could have been made. It should not be surprising and is mentioned regularly in newspapers and by the education secretary himself that competition between the exam boards combined with result dependent school league tables has produced a ‘race to the bottom’ for standards. The only feasible solution to this problem would be to hand back controls for setting exams to the Universities and to abolish school league tables. Although this in itself would only be meaningful when combined with reforms of the exams themselves.