11/06/2013 06:17 BST | Updated 11/08/2013 06:12 BST

Gove's GCSE Exam Overhaul Defended By Elizabeth Truss

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 09: Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education speaks at the Conservative party conference in the International Convention Centre on October 9, 2012 in Birmingham, England.Today's penultimate day of the annual, four-day Conservative party conference features speeches from Cabinet ministers and the Mayor of London. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

A radical overhaul of GCSE exams is needed to allow British students to compete academically with those in other countries, the education minister has said.

Elizabeth Truss said the most widespread changes in a generation, likely to see the current grading system scrapped, would end grade inflation and create "a world-class system so we can compete in the global race".

Exam regulator Ofqual will publish a consultation today setting out proposals for GCSE reform, likely to include plans to axe coursework in the majority of subjects, introduce end-of-course exams, curtail re-sits and overhaul the grading system.

This could mean scrapping current A*-G grades and replacing them with a numbered system.

Michael Gove has announced that there would be a major overhaul of GCSEs

Mrs Truss told BBC Breakfast that the current system was not fit for purpose, saying: "What we can't do is we cannot carry on with a system that isn't delivering, where there has been rampant grade inflation and where international league tables tell us we have stagnated compared with the rest of the world.

"For too long we have pretended that students' results are getting better, whereas actually all that has been happening is that exams have been getting easier and there has been a race to the bottom between exam boards. We need to stop that happening now."

The Department for Education is also expected to unveil new information on the content of the exams today.

Under the changes, ministers will announce that pupils will study whole Shakespeare plays in English instead of short extracts, at least one 19th century novel, a selection of Romantic poetry and seminal world literature, the Daily Telegraph reported.

Maths courses will feature more advanced algebra and statistics, biology syllabuses will place a greater emphasis on evolution and genetics, and pupils will be expected to write longer essay-style answers in history exams, it said.

Education Secretary Michael Gove announced that there would be a major overhaul of GCSEs in England earlier this year, after ditching plans to replace them with English Baccalaureate Certificates.

MPs have raised concerns about a rush towards separate exam systems in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, saying such a move would be "regrettable".

All three nations should continue to run GCSEs and A-levels, according to a new report by the Commons education select committee, which urged ministers to "do everything possible to bring this about".

The call, in a report into last summer's GCSE English controversy, comes just weeks after Mr Gove wrote to his counterparts in Wales and Northern Ireland suggesting that differences in exam reform mean that it is time for the countries to go their separate ways.

The cross-party group of MPs also said that ministers and Ofqual must pay close attention to expert opinion on exams as they overhaul the system, and not ignore warning voices if concerns are raised.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said: "We have always agreed that it is the right time to look again at GCSEs, and most of the changes set out by Ofqual seem sensible.

"Where we have concerns is in the proposed syllabus. Simply making exams harder does not guarantee higher standards or mean that students will be prepared for a job at the end of it.

"There is a difference between an engaging curriculum that stretches and motivates students, and harder exams, which for some students could lead to disengagement, boredom and failure."

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) said: "This is far too rushed a process. Wales and Northern Ireland have no intention to change GCSEs.

"This is a particular enthusiasm of this Government at this time. If reforming examinations was done by consensus, by actually talking to the profession and understanding how best to examine things, we would be in a much better position than this highly politicised approach that the current government has.

"We all want children and young people to be extraordinarily well taught and to do the very best that they can but you don't just do that by, in a rapid way, changing the whole basis of the system. "