Gove's disingenuous defence of the GCSE grades fiasco

The Education Secretary glossed over the injustice done to English pupils.

Michael Gove has been across the airwaves this morning, defending the government's handling of the GCSE grades fiasco, which saw English papers marked more harshly in June than they were in January. In an appearance on the Today programme, he declared that his "heart" went out to those students who received worse-than-expected grades, but wasted no time in changing the subject. The fiasco, Gove said, simply "reinforced the case for reform", with modules and units scrapped and GCSEs replaced with "new examinations". The injustice was "inherent in the examination".

But this was disingenuous. The Education Secretary conflated two separate debates, one over the value of modular exams and one over the decision to mark some pupils' English papers more harshly than others. When pressed by John Humphrys, he eventually declared that it would be "absolutely wrong" for him to give instructions to the exam regulator Ofqual, adding that it would be "a genuine scandal if ministers were to interfere to make exams either easier or more difficult". Again, however, Gove misrepresented his critics' position. No one is asking him to make exams "easier or more difficult", rather to correct an injustice that saw grade boundaries arbitrarily moved in the middle of the school year.

Fortunately, with parliament back from its summer recess, Gove won't be able to avoid scrutiny for long. He will answer regular education questions from MPs at 2:30pm and Labour may request an urgent question on the grades fiasco if he does not make a statement. In addition, trade unions are still threatening to take legal action over his refusal to intervene.

Gove also used his Today appearance to reaffirm his intention to scrap GCSEs all together. The new exams, he said, would have "all the rigour of the old O-levels" but would be sat by "a majority of students". Yet with the Lib Dems pledged to veto "anything that would lead to a two-tier system", it remains unclear how the Education Secretary will win their approval.

Education Secretary Michael Gove arrives at the Leveson inquiry earlier this year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Here's something the political class has completely missed about Brexit

As Hillary Clinton could tell them, arguments about trade have a long, long afterlife. 

I frequently hear the same thing at Westminster, regardless of whether or not the person in question voted to leave the European Union or not: that, after March 2019, Brexit will be “over”.

It’s true that on 30 March 2019, the United Kingdom will leave the EU whether the government has reached a deal with the EU27 on its future relationship or not. But as a political issue, Brexit will never be over, regardless of whether it is seen as a success or a failure.

You don’t need to have a crystal ball to know this, you just need to have read a history book, or, failing that, paid any attention to current affairs. The Democratic primaries and presidential election of 2016 hinged, at least in part, on the consequences of the North American Free Trade Association (Nafta). Hillary Clinton defeated a primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, who opposed the deal, and lost to Donald Trump, who also opposed the measure.

Negotiations on Nafta began in 1990 and the agreement was fully ratified by 1993. Economists generally agree that it has, overall, benefited the nations that participate in it. Yet it was still contentious enough to move at least some votes in a presidential election 26 years later.

Even if Brexit turns out to be a tremendous success, which feels like a bold call at this point, not everyone will experience it as one. (A good example of this is the collapse in the value of the pound after Britain’s Leave vote. It has been great news for manufacturers, domestic tourist destinations and businesses who sell to the European Union. It has been bad news for domestic households and businesses who buy from the European Union.)

Bluntly, even a successful Brexit is going to create some losers and an unsuccessful one will create many more. The arguments over it, and the political fissure it creates, will not end on 30 March 2019 or anything like it. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.