Gove's disingenuous defence of the GCSE grades fiasco

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

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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 senior online editor of the New Statesman.

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