Exclusive: Gove wasted £42,000 on abandoned EBC exams

In addition to "administration and staff costs", the Department for Education spent thousands of pounds on developing the GCSE replacement.

There was much embarrassment for Michael Gove last month when the cabinet's golden boy announced that he would not, after all, be replacing GCSEs with a new English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBC). But how much did the exams-that-never-were cost the taxpayer? Gove refused to say when asked by Labour MP Steve Rose on 7 February, so the NS put in a freedom of information request to the Department For Education. 

I asked "how much the department spent on developing and consulting on plans to have a single exam board for each academic subject at GCSE level and on introducing English Baccalaureate Certificates in English, maths, science, history, geography and foreign languages."

The department has now replied, stating that it "holds some but not all of information which you have requested". The consultation on the new exams and wider work on the development of the EBC "were carried out as part of normal administration and staff costs". The department, I was told, "does not hold information on the cost of these activities as it is not collated on a central basis."

However, the DfE has disclosed those costs that fell outside of the normal administration budget. And here they are:

Economic research on qualification market reform: £40,585.20

A patent on the trademark English Baccalaureate Certificates: £270

Subject and assessment expertise to provide advice on English Baccalaureate Certificate subject content requirements and assessment principles: £960

Total: £41,815

By the profligate standards of Whitehall, the bill might not appear all that significant but remember that it excludes "administrative and staff costs".

David Cameron has promised that his government will spend "every penny wisely". On this occasion, can one say that of his Education Secretary?

Update: The Department for Education have responded to the story. A spokesperson said:

"The vast majority of this money was spent on economic research on qualification market reform which will be vital in informing our ongoing work to reform GCSEs.

"The new GCSEs will be robust, relevant and rigorous exams that match the best in the world and prepare young people for further study and work. They will be far more demanding, and will be highly respected exams in which pupils, universities and employers, can have faith."

Education Secretary Michael Gove speaks at last year's Conservative conference in Birmingham. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leader: The divisions within Labour

Labour’s divisions have rendered it unfit for government at a moment of profound political change.

Labour is a party torn between its parliamentary and activist wings. Since Jeremy Corbyn, who this week appealed desperately for unity, was re-elected by a landslide last September, Labour has become the first opposition in 35 years to lose a ­by-election to the governing party and has continually trailed the Conservatives by a double-digit margin. Yet polling suggests that, were Mr Corbyn’s leadership challenged again, he would win by a comfortable margin. Meanwhile, many of the party’s most gifted and experienced MPs refuse to serve on the front bench. In 2015 Mr Corbyn made the leadership ballot only with the aid of political opponents such as Margaret Beckett and Frank Field. Of the 36 MPs who nominated him, just 15 went on to vote for him.

Having hugely underestimated the strength of the Labour left once, the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) will not do so again. In the contest that will follow Mr Corbyn’s eventual departure, the centrists could lock out potential successors such as the shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey. Under Labour’s current rules, candidates require support from at least 15 per cent of the party’s MPs and MEPs.

This conundrum explains the attempt by Mr Corbyn’s supporters to reduce the threshold to 5 per cent. The “McDonnell amendment” (named after the shadow chancellor, who failed to make the ballot in 2007 and 2010) is being championed by the Bennite Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and Jon Lansman of Momentum, who is interviewed by Tanya Gold on page 34. “For 20 years the left was denied a voice,” he tweeted to the party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, on 19 March. “We will deny a voice to no one. We face big challenges, and we need our mass membership to win again.”

The passage of the amendment at this year’s Labour conference would aid Mr Lansman’s decades-long quest to bring the party under the full control of activists. MPs have already lost the third of the vote they held under the electoral college system. They face losing what little influence they retain.

No Labour leader has received less support from his MPs than Mr Corbyn. However, the amendment would enable the election of an even more unpopular figure. For this reason, it should be resolutely opposed. One should respect the motivation of the members and activists, yet Labour must remain a party capable of appealing to a majority of people, a party that is capable of winning elections.

Since it was founded, Labour has been an explicitly parliamentary party. As Clause One of its constitution states: “[The party’s] purpose is to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour Party.” The absurdity of a leader opposed by as much as 95 per cent of his own MPs is incompatible with this mission. Those who do not enjoy the backing of their parliamentary colleagues will struggle to persuade the voters that they deserve their support.

Labour’s divisions have rendered it unfit for government at a moment of profound political change. Rather than formalising this split, the party needs to overcome it – or prepare for one of the greatest defeats in its history.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution