Gove plots to scrap GCSEs and bring back the old ‘elitist’ O Level

The breaking news tonight, splashed all over the Daily Mail’s website, is that Michael Gove is aiming to scrap the GCSE qualification over the next few years and bring back the old O Level. The Mail claims:

  • GCSEs will ‘disappear’ from schools within the next few years
  • The National Curriculum in secondary schools will be abolished
  • The requirement that pupils obtain five good GCSEs graded A* to C will be scrapped
  • Less intelligent pupils will sit simpler exams, similar to the old CSEs
  • O-level pupils will sit the same gold standard paper nationwide from a single exam board

Teachers like me will certainly be taking a big “gulp” at this news. I’m in the position of having taught GCSEs for the last twenty years but having been one of the last cohorts in the mid-1980s to take O Levels. My experience of O Levels were that they were very reductive and somewhat simplistic exams; I’m no fan of GCSEs, but in comparison to the old O Level they are enlightened qualifications! For example, the old O Level English had no coursework or speaking and listening component, and asked questions that required fairly basic skills such as summary skills, essay writing and reading comprehension. My memory of school is doing endless drilling in preparation for these exams to the exclusion of everything else. It left me, like thousands of other pupils, feeling alienated and dispirited. Michael Gove might have enjoyed doing them, but most of us didn’t.

It also has to be borne in mind that O Levels were taken by fewer than a third of pupils, leaving a whopping 70% of pupils to take the second-rate CSE qualification, or leave school with no qualification at all. A return to this sort of elitist qualification system would be an unmitigated disaster, leaving most of our school leavers with second-rate qualifications to their name.

Gove is essentially an “elitist” in the sense that he believes that a certain percentage of pupils should be “creamed off” from the rest; he is the servant of the Tory shires and upper middle-class who want to separate their children off from the “rabble”. He’s shown this time again in his free schools policy, in his sneaky ploy to expand grammar schools, and now, most classically, in his junking of our current examination system. He has little time for the evidence; serious research suggests that GCSE may not be “dumbed down” at all. It’s a contested area, but there’s nothing conclusive to prove O Levels are a “better” qualification.

It’s time for someone in the Lib-Dems and the opposition to start talking about equality more seriously. Where are you Nick Clegg? Where are you Sarah Teather? Do you agree with this dangerous nostalgic nonsense? Where’s Twigg?

What is he is doing our school system is simply very unfair. It’s time to protest.



Published by: @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing ( which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network,, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.

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