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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"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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