Students

GCSE's Scrapped By Michael Gove In Favour Of Ebacc - Does Stephen Twigg Believe What He's Saying?

Not an easy afternoon for Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg, who had to stand up and respond to Michael Gove's heavily-trailed announcement that GCSEs in core subjects would be scrapped in favour of an English Baccalaureate qualification, a process that will begin in 2015.

Twigg's central claim was that Gove had failed to get a grip on the marking fiasco which has led to the grade thresholds for GCSE English being moved over the summer. As such, said Twigg, Gove couldn't be trusted to make any further reforms to the GCSE system. As arguments go, it was pretty weak and everyone knew it, particularly when there is a cross-party consensus that it's down to OFQUAL to sort out the mess with this summer's results, free from interference from politicians.

It seemed as though Twigg was desperate to sound like he was opposing something, without being all that clear which aspects of the new policy he didn't like.

"Schools today do need to change," said Twigg. "We need to address the challenges of the 21st Century, but I simply don't accept we achieve that by returning to a system abolished as out of date in the 1980s."

This might have been a fair point had Gove's original plan to replace GCSE's been on the table, but it wasn't. The Lib Dems have watered it down so that like GCSEs, the vast majority of 16 year-olds will take the same qualification.

What seems likely is that over the next few months the clear blue water - if any - between Gove and Twigg will focus on the relative merits of coursework.

"The best system does involve coursework and project work," Twigg told the Commons. "Surely our system should value skills as well as knowledge?"

This thought was immediately echoed by other Labour MPs.

In response, the Tories are saying that coursework actually favours the rich; that middle class kids are helped by their often better-educated parents, whereas poorer kids can't get that sort of help at home. It will interesting to see whether the Tories can produce any concrete evidence for that.

At the moment Labour is privately trying to keep its powder as dry as possible on these reforms, because only the most basic outline has been revealed by Gove. The suspicion is that the reforms will end up being far less radical than Gove originally wanted because the Lib Dems have curtailed his efforts.

Labour are also in a difficult position because of the timing of the changes - they won't even start until 2015 and the indication from Gove on Monday was that it would be a slow and gradual change.

By that time it's unlikely that Michael Gove will be Education Secretary - it is more likely on current polling to be Stephen Twigg.

This affects how far Labour can go in criticising the reforms; they may find themselves piloting or even trying to champion them in less than three years.