Toby Young Toby Young

Why would anyone want to keep GCSEs?

On the principle that you should know your enemy, I’ve spent the last few days trying to work out where the critics of Michael Gove’s GCSE reforms are coming from. Why does anyone object to introducing more rigour into the classroom?

Just to be clear, the last government presided over a period of relentless dumbing down. As GCSE results continually improved, England plummeted in the OECD’s international league tables. In 2000, our 15-year-olds were eighth in the world for maths. By 2009, they’d fallen to 27th.

So there’s no question something needs to be done and, on the face of it, Gove’s reforms are just the ticket: insisting on just one exam board to stop the race to the bottom; limiting the top grade to the very best instead of handing it out like confetti to a quarter of all pupils; and encouraging teachers to focus on a core of academic subjects by introducing the English Baccalaureate.

It’s this last proposal that has enraged Gove’s critics the most. To refresh your memory, the proposal is that an EBacc will be awarded to children who get a grade C or above in English, maths, a humanities subject, a language and at least two science subjects.

There are three objections to this.

The first is that it’s draconian. Why should schools be forced to teach all children such a narrow range of subjects? What’s wrong with their media studies and sociology? When faced with this argument, I gently point out that no one’s suggesting the EBacc subjects should be mandatory. Schools won’t be put into special measures if the percentage of pupils getting an EBacc falls below a certain threshold. The proposal is simply to include an EBacc column in the school league tables, thereby providing parents with one more piece of information when choosing where to send their children.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.

Or

Unlock more articles

REGISTER

Comments

Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in