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
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."