The Government has decided that the GCSE exam qualification  introduced in the 1980s is no longer ‘fit for purpose’.

The Government will ask exam boards to prepare new tests in English, maths, the sciences, history, geography and languages, drawing on the example of other countries with the best education systems.

The Government plans to call the new qualifications in these core academic subjects  English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBacc or EBC) — recognising that they are the foundation on which further study, vocational learning or a satisfying apprenticeship can be built. Success in English, maths, science, a humanities subject and a language will comprise the full English Baccalaureate.

The Government intends to make changes to the exam board market and to move  to a model of single exam boards for each subject suite in the new qualifications, with a five year contract on offer , open to competitive tender.

From the autumn of 2015, pupils will be taught for the new EBacc in English, maths and science. These will cover seven papers: English language, English literature, maths pure and applied (with an additional maths option), chemistry, physics and biology.

The new exam will be sat for the first time in these subjects in the summer of 2017. There will be no coursework in English and maths as modules are scrapped on the grounds that they encourage what Gove described as “bite-size learning and spoon-feeding”. There will be some coursework in science to take account of the importance of laboratory work.

From 2016, pupils will be taught for the new EBacc in history, geography and languages. Pupils will sit the exams in the summer of 2018. There will be no coursework for history. Field trips will still count in geography and there will be flexibility on oral exams for languages.

At present GCSE pupils can resit modules. EBC Pupils will  have to resit the whole exam

The consultation paper makes no reference to norm referencing – so there appears to be no foundation to the  ‘leaks’  that the top grade would be limited to one tenth or one-twentieth of entries

There will be some students who will not sit these exams — the same students who do not sit GCSEs today. The Government will  make special provision for these students, and their schools will be required to produce a detailed record of their achievement in each curriculum area to help them make progress subsequently — the Government  hopes that  these pupils will secure   the EBC  when they are ready,  at the age of 17 or 18.

New floor targets for schools will be introduced from 2017 when the exams are first sat, and a consultation on changing school league tables will begin later this year.

GCSEs will coexist for the first years of the EBC at least, but Ofqual will be asked to use the EBCs as a template for GCSE replacements in other subjects.


One of the main criticisms of our education system is that there is too much teaching to the test and too little acknowledgement of the importance of good vocational qualifications, or support and clear pathways  for those whose strengths  are more suited to practical and vocational learning . These reforms are very much focused on the need for academic rigour. So , it  is not  immediately clear how they, as presented on 17 September, will address these concerns, although most believe that GCSES needed reform and that there has been significant grade inflation over the years that has  served to  undermine their integrity.




  1. […] All that's changed is that there will no longer be an alternative to GCSEs in the Ebacc disciplines. He was never proposing to do away with GCSEs altogether, as some of today's media coverage has implied. Gove had simply proposed that in English, English literature, maths (pure and applied), physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, various foreign languages (including Latin), history and geography, GCSEs should be replaced by EBCs – exams set by a single examination board in each subject.  The plan was for the new exams to be introduced in the English, maths and science subjects from 2017, with the others following later. (For a summary of the proposal, see here.) […]

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