16/09/2012 06:35 BST | Updated 16/09/2012 06:59 BST

Michael Gove 'To Announce Exams Overhaul' With GCSEs Replaced With Tougher Tests

Education Secretary Michael Gove is set to announce a major overhaul of school exams with a return to tougher O-level style qualifications in the place of GCSEs, it was reported today.

The move will be the biggest reform of the examination system for school-leavers in a generation and will be unveiled on Tuesday, according to the Mail on Sunday.

The plans include getting rid of modular assessment, reintroducing the traditional three-hour exam at the end of two years of study and limiting the number of top grades that are awarded, the paper said.

The new system would be introduced from September 2015, with the first of the new-style exams taking place in 2017.

There has also been speculation that in future there would only be one exam board provider per subject after Mr Gove said last week that competition had had "malign effects".

The Department for Education would only say that an announcement would be made shortly.

The reforms have placed a major strain on coalition relations after Mr Gove's plans to bring back O-levels were leaked in June before they had even been broached with Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Documents showed that the Tory Education Secretary wanted to replace GCSEs with O-levels in traditional academic subjects such as English, maths, the humanities and science.

The changes would also see less able pupils taking simpler qualifications, similar to old-style CSEs, and the national curriculum for secondary schools abolished.

Teaching leaders have warned that such a move would see a return to "two-tier" schooling, writing off large swathes of the population, and the Lib Dems were infuriated by the idea.

Mr Clegg said neither he nor the Prime Minister, David Cameron, had been aware of the plans and indicated that they would not go ahead without Lib Dem support.

He said he was against "anything that would lead to a two-tier system where children at quite a young age are somehow cast on a scrapheap".

After extensive discussions about the proposals, however, the Lib Dem leader is expected to join Mr Gove in a show of unity at the launch of a consultation on the reforms on Tuesday.

Stephen Twigg MP, Labour's Shadow Education Secretary, responding to the reports in the Mail on Sunday, said:

"It is inappropriate for an overhaul of GCSEs to be leaked while young people taking English GCSEs this year have been treated so unfairly, and are still in limbo.

"Labour supports rigorous exams but only if they don't act as a cap on aspiration.

"Politicians should not set an artificial limit on the number of top grades, rather the best work should be rewarded.

"New exams should ensure that young people are prepared for the world of work and the jobs of the future. However, it is not clear how this new system will ensure a breadth of knowledge and skills and that pupils continue studying English and Maths until age 18.

"There has been no consultation on these plans, rather they have been drawn up in secret and leaked to select media outlets.

"The Chairman of the Education Select Committee warned Michael Gove just a few days ago of his responsibilities in the ministerial code regarding leaks, which he seemed unaware of. And yet we have seen another leak of major education changes rather than them being presented to Parliament."