The former schools minister Nick Gibb has urged his successors to resist “siren voices” calling for the abolition of GCSEs, and not to listen to those who “excuse failing standards”.
The removal of Gibb, a key architect of Conservative education policy for more than 15 years, has prompted calls for reforms to GCSEs and the EBacc performance measure.
But in his article, Gibb said his successors should resist calls for GCSEs to go.
“Nothing would widen the attainment gap more than such a dismal and unambitious policy,” he warned.
“For a large minority of people, GCSEs are the last academic qualification they will take. Remove them, and that group lose any valid certification of a broad education.”
He also said GCSEs served to “define a demanding curriculum and they help hold schools to account”.
“Remove them and weaker schools will grow weaker still.”
Gibb said the government’s focus on “driving up standards” had seen improvements to schools, but acknowledged there was “clearly more to do”.
Gibb ‘worried’ about schools judged less than good
“I worry about the 14 per cent of schools that are still judged as inadequate or needing to improve. Too often, these failing schools are in areas of deprivation, serving communities that more than anywhere else deserve and need the highest quality schools not the worst schools.”
But he urged the new Department for Education team not to listen to those who “excuse failing standards and who argue that schools in deprived areas cannot succeed”.
“President George W Bush was right to dismiss such arguments as the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’. Our ambition must not be limited by such arguments.”
As in many of his speeches while he was still in the job, Gibb praised schools including Michaela free school in Brent and Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford and Eden Boys School in Birmingham.
These schools have high rates of pupils on free school meals, he said, but were still delivering “a standard of education that rival or exceed the best in the country – state or independent”.
“What these schools also have in common is a high proportion of their pupils being entered for the EBacc combination of core academic GCSEs.”
Ex-minister defends EBacc
He said the Ebacc subjects were those “that more affluent families will expect their children to study because they give young people the greatest opportunities and options for their future”.
“If it’s right for these children, it’s right for all children regardless of their background. That’s why it is so important that the EBacc remains as a key metric by which we hold schools to account.”
During the last few months of Gibb’s tenure, a fierce row broke out over education recovery funding, prompted by the resignation of recovery commissioner Sir Kevan Collins.
New free schools ‘just as important’ as catch-up cash
Gibb said the £3 billion allocated so far was “crucial”, but that building and opening new free schools would be “just as important in helping ensure that children in the most deprived areas catch-up”.
He said he was “delighted” that his “friend” Nadhim Zahawi had been appointed as education secretary, again highlighting there was “still much more to do”.
“If I were to give the newly reshuffled team at the DfE one piece of advice it would be this: remember that reform must be a continuous process, the speed can change but momentum must not stop.
“If we let up our concentration on standards, on what evidence tells us works; if we stop pushing forward the knowledge-based curriculum or abandon changes to teacher training, the tide will turn. It’s hard work, but the progressive ideology has not gone away. It would be a tragedy for future generations if we gave in and settled for an easier life.”