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Gove forced into U-turn on GCSEs

It’s unlikely to dent his permanent expression of preening self-regard, but Education Secretary Michael Gove has been forced into a humiliating climbdown over his proposals to replace GCSEs.

Gove, devout champion of the academy system and scourge of state sector education, had proposed an English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBC) to replace GCSEs. In the House of Commons he had to acknowledge what the teaching unions, Labour Opposition and Liberal Democrat coalition partners had been telling him all along: that it wouldn’t work.

"One of the proposals that I put forward was a bridge too far," Gove said, to derision from the Opposition. "There were significant risks in trying to both strengthen qualification and to end competition in large parts of the exams market. Instead, we will concentrate on reforming existing GCSEs broadly along the lines that we put forward in September."

Trying to claw back a little authority, Gove insisted that elements of the EBC would be incorporated into significant changes to the national curriculum. Gove’s determination to take education back to his Victorian ideal would see a revived focus on rigorous exams, spelling, grammar and arithmetic, the recognition of cities and rivers on maps and study of "the great works of the literary canon". Although Gove’s canon is liable to be significantly different to that valued by teachers and academics.

Gove’s ideology is formed by US educationalist ED Hirsch, who insists that instilling children with as much basic knowledge as possible is the best foundation for effective learning. Gove admitted that his curriculum leaned heavily on the facts-based systems of Hong Kong , Singapore and the US state of Massachusetts.

The Opposition was a little too eager to sneer at Gove’s climbdown over the EBC to offer any constructive arguments about the curriculum changes. That may be left to head teachers and the teaching unions.

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