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Gove Admits Axing GCSEs Was 'Bridge Too Far'
Education Secretary Michael Gove has been forced to shelve his flagship plans to scrap GCSEs, admitting they were a "bridge to far".
Mr Gove confirmed the embarrassing U-turn in a statement to the Commons as Labour accused him of presiding over a "fiasco".
His plans to replace GCSEs with a new English Baccalaureate Certificate in core academic subjects were unveiled last September and billed as the biggest overhaul in a generation.
But they have been shelved after opposition within the coalition from the Liberal Democrats, and more widely from regulators and teachers.
A move to hand each core subject to a single exam board - something Mr Gove previously claimed was vital to prevent "dumbing down" - has also been ditched.
The reverse comes days after the cross-party Commons Education Committee said the Government had "not proved its case" that GCSEs should be abolished in key academic subjects.
The Education Secretary told MPs GCSEs would now be reformed rather than scrapped, with the focus on end-of-course exams, longer questions and less internal assessment.
He insisted there was still a consensus that the system has to change and tried to downplay the U-turn by saying: "One of the proposals I put forward was a bridge too far.
"My idea that we end the competition between exam boards to offer GCSEs in core academic qualifications and have just one - wholly new - exam in each subject was just one reform too many at this time.
"The exam regulator Ofqual ... was clear that there were significant risks in trying to both strengthen qualifications and end competition in a large part of the exams market.
"So, I have decided not to make the best the enemy of the good.
"And I will not proceed with plans to have a single exam board offering a new exam in each academic subject - instead we will concentrate on reforming existing GCSEs along the lines we put forward in September."
He later added: "I bit off more than I could chew."
Mr Gove had wanted to introduce the new EBacc certificate in England in the five core academic areas of English, maths, science, languages and humanities - history or geography.
Each of the core subjects would have been handed to a single examination board but officials had warned the plan could fall foul of EU procurement rules.
It is the second time the Liberal Democrats have blocked Mr Gove's reforms after they vetoed plans to replace GCSEs with a two-tier exam system last year.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said during his weekly radio phone-in on LBC that Mr Gove was right to change his mind. "I want to pay tribute to Michael. He's listened and he's reacted," he said.
But shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said in the Commons: "The words 'GCSE' and 'fiasco' seem to be indelibly linked under this Government. This is a humiliating climbdown.
"This is a failed vision for education. A total misunderstanding of the future needs of our country. A total shambles.
"Forced into apologising to the House when you scrapped Building Schools for the Future. Forced into a partial U-turn on school sport. You should have learned your lesson by now."
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "This is an extremely welcome decision.
"ASCL has never believed that GCSE is beyond repair and has been advocating this course of action for many months.
"This decision will provide an opportunity to improve the existing qualification and will be warmly welcomed by the profession."
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), added: "This is a victory for all those who have campaigned against this ill thought-out reform to GCSEs.
"The Education Secretary must now learn a lesson from this fiasco and consult with those who know far more than he appears to do about education."
Mr Gove told MPs new GCSEs in English, maths, science, history and geography which will be "universal" qualifications taken by most students will now be taught from 2015.
Current league tables based on the proportion of pupils achieving A*-C in five subjects will also be replaced in the shake-up.
Two new measures are being introduced, one on the percentage of pupils reaching a certain threshold in English and maths and a second average points score per pupil across eight subjects.
"This measure will incentivise schools to offer a broad, balanced curriculum, with high-quality teaching and high achievement across the board," Mr Gove said.
Ofqual sent the Education Secretary a letter warning that the Government's timetable for reform is still "challenging" and might have to be delayed further.
"We will need jointly to keep the timetable under review and if problems arise Ofqual would, if necessary, delay the reforms," chief regulator Glenys Stacey wrote.