Government plans to axe GCSEs in favour of a new exam could fail to help less able pupils and leave some subjects with discredited qualifications, a cross-party group of MPs has warned.
In a damning report, the Commons education select committee said that while significant improvements to GCSEs were needed, ministers had failed to prove their case for scrapping the qualification, and urged them to slow down the pace of reforms.
It raised serious concerns that the pace and scale of the reforms could jeopardise the quality of the new exams and that there was a "lack of coherence" about the government's approach to reforming the curriculum, qualifications and the school accountability system.
Education Secretary Michael Gove announced plans last year to axe GCSEs in favour of new English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) in English, maths and science. The qualifications will be first taught in September 2015, with students sitting the first exams in 2015. EBCs in history, geography and languages will follow at a later date, and GCSEs are set to remain for other subjects.
But in its report on the proposals, the select committee said it had a number of concerns about the reforms. The Government has yet to make the case that GCSEs are so discredited that a new exam is needed, and it should publish the full results of its consultation into the reforms to justify why the brand is so damaged it is beyond repair, the committee said. And it warned that the reforms could have a negative impact on subjects that would remain GCSEs. "We are very concerned about the potential impact of the EBCs on subjects outside the English Baccalaureate, which will be left with 'discredited' GCSE qualifications for some time," the report said.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We have been clear that the secondary education system is in desperate need of a thorough overhaul - an objective with which the committee agrees. That is why we are making major changes to ensure we have world class exams that raise standards."
Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said: "Michael Gove has become the enemy of ambition. This damning report supports Labour's warning that the Tory-led Government's changes will do nothing to improve standards, especially for low-attaining pupils. This risks leaving schoolchildren with a badge of failure. He needs to go back to the drawing board."
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Michael Gove and the coalition Government's position on examination reform is now surely untenable. The Education Secretary is totally isolated in his view that the English Baccalaureate Certificates are a suitable measure to replace GCSEs."
The select committee's report comes as the Government announced that computer science is to be included in its English Baccalaureate. Currently pupils achieve the Ebacc if they score at least a C at GCSE in English, maths, two sciences, history or geography and a language. Computer science is to be added to the list of science options, alongside biology, chemistry and physics. Youngsters who sit any three of the four, and get at least a C in two of them, will fulfil the science part of the Ebacc. The Department for Education said that the change has been made because computer science is important for education and the economy.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: "The Government's proposals not only risk chaos in terms of implementation, they relegate non-EBC subjects to second-class status. Of course we need English, maths, science, languages and history, but we need art, drama, design, sport and technology too. The lack of a clear vision for vocational education within the EBC scheme is also glaring. Too many young people - the students who most need our attention - are neglected by these proposals."