Page last updated at 12:07 GMT, Thursday, 21 June 2012 13:07 UK

Labour attacks 'two-tier' exams

Shadow education minister Kevin Brennan has accused the government of seeking to create "a two-tier exam system" in its plans to replace GCSEs.

Mr Brennan tabled an urgent question in the Commons on 21 June 2012 to ask Education Secretary Michael Gove about reports that he plans to scrap GCSEs, end the National Curriculum in secondary schools and replace examination boards with single subject bodies.

Mr Gove told him that despite GCSEs being made more rigorous, "children are working harder than ever but we've been told that the exams system isn't working for them".

He argued that GCSEs "privilege bite-sized learning over deep understanding - gobbets of knowledge over real learning".

He alleged that exam boards had been competing to make exams easier and told MPs that a consultation paper would be published on the replacement of GCSEs and other changes to examinations, which would "tackle the culture of competitive dumbing down".

Mr Brennan acknowledged there may be some problems with GCSEs but said that "a two-tier exam system which divides children into winners and losers at 14 is not the answer".

He said the changes would be a "distraction" from work to improve standards which, he claimed, rose under the previous Labour government as a result of an emphasis on literacy and numeracy.

He asked Mr Gove: "How will a return to 1950s qualifications help prepare people for a 21st century world of work?"

The education secretary retorted that "the sad truth is that we already have a two-tier system in education" and added that some schools had already abandoned GCSEs in favour of other qualifications.

Labour MP and former Education Secretary David Blunkett urged Mr Gove to "stop rubbishing everything that happened before he came into office" and made the point that GCSEs were introduced by a Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher.

Mr Gove said that while there had been some improvements there had been a "race to the bottom in examinations".

Labour MP for Telford David Wright said he was worried about Mr Gove ditching his "Thatcherite credentials" by scrapping GCSEs.

Mr Gove replied: "In matters of ideology I'm a Blairite - I believe that what's right is what works."

It has been reported that ministers are preparing to scrap GCSEs in England from autumn 2014, though Mr Gove did not give further details.

It would be up to Wales and Northern Ireland to decide whether to follow suit. In Scotland, pupils take Standard Grades and Highers rather than GCSEs and A-levels.

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