Michael Gove has been forced to shelve his plans to scrap GCSEs, admitting his English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBC) mission was a “bridge too far.”
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The U-turn, announced at the House of Commons today, also revealed that the new computing curriculum will teach children the basics of algorithms and programming from as early as Key Stage 1 (KS1), aged 5-7.
Gove, the education secretary, unveiled his plans to replace GCSEs with the EBC last September – a decision which was called the biggest overhaul in a generation. However, his plans have been dropped after opposition from coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, in addition to other parties, teachers and regulators.
It marks the second time that the Liberal Democrats have blocked Gove's reforms. Last year, the party prevented plans to replace GCSEs with a two-tier exam system.
It is understood that pressure was mounting on the cabinet minister after he was warned by civil servants that handing over the core subjects to just one examination board could breach European Union rules on public service contracts.
Nick Gibb, the former schools minister, speaking on Gove’s behalf, called the U-turn a "tweak" but Labour referred to it as a "humiliating climb down".
GCSEs will now remain, although they will be reformed in a bid to restore confidence and respect in the qualification.
During his statement today, Gove also announced changes to the national curriculum. The Department for Education published documents on the new national curriculum today, outlining the plans for computer science. Overall aims for the subject state that students should be able to: “Understand and apply the fundamental principles of computer science, including logic, algorithms, data representation and communication.”
Gove said: “We have replaced the old ICT curriculum with a new computing curriculum, with help from Google, Facebook and some of Britain’s most brilliant computer scientists – and we have included rigorous computer science GCSEs in the English Baccalaureate (EBacc).”
The curriculum states that from KS1, pupils will: “Understand what algorithms are, how they are implemented as programs on digital devices and that programs execute by following a sequence of instructions.”
By Key Stage 4: “All pupils must have the opportunity to study aspects of information technology and computer science at sufficient depth to allow them to progress to higher levels of study or to a professional career.”
Under Gove’s original plans pupils were to be taught the new certificate in English, maths and science in 2015, ready for examination in 2017 – which has now been considered too ambitious.Certificates were due to be handed to students that obtained A*-C grades.
The EBacc, or English Baccalaureate, is a way of measuring pupils who pass five core academic subjects at GCSE - not to be confused with the EBC.
Computer Science was added to the EBacc last week, when Gove reacted to the opposition by accepting its demand to include the subject as one of the sciences offered under the system.