Five ways Michael Gove has changed GCSEs and A-levels

Michael Gove left his role as education secretary this week, having spent the last four years making sweeping reforms to the structure, style and content GCSEs and A-levels. These changes will soon become a reality for millions of 15-19 year olds across the country - it could be you, your brother or your sister... 

Here, we outline five changes Gove has made to the education system in Britain and review the flurry of reactions from our forums - the cheers and the tears - to the ending of his time in overall charge of the country's schools. 

1. GCSEs and A-levels are about to become harder

Over the next three years, the content of GCSEs and A-levels is going to get tougher. Only yesterday, Gove announced that A-level modern languages such as French, German and Spanish are going to include more foreign literature and culture, while GCSE PE will contain more theory on anatomy and psychology. 

Maths A-level is another subject expected to get much harder for new students, and Michael Gove isn't the only one to think it's too easy...

A-level maths as experienced by a TSR member

Read stefl14's full recollection of maths A-level

"I acheived 4A*s at A level and I'm sorry to say that it wasn't that hard - it just involved doing lots of past papers with their formulaic questions. This shouldn't be the case. 

"People do A-level maths and just learn methods that they forget because they don't learn anything from first principles or learn the derivations of anything important. Calculus is an excellent example. 

"It's widely accepted that in maths learning derivations helps long term memory and this is the type of maths we need. All our education system is at the moment is rote learning. There is no thinking or problem solving really." (stefl14)


According to another member, acidy, the more challenging exams will bring "values of hard work" back to GCSEs and A-levels. "I'm in no doubt people will remember him as someone who tried to make education more competitive and based on merit which I cannot disrespect him for," acidy added. 

Union Jack

2. GCSE English and history will become more British

In subjects such as English and history, there'll be a much greater emphasis on promoting British values. American novels To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men were dropped from the GCSE English literature syllabus so that more British works could be included. This was met with horror by many passionate teachers and nostalgic former students. 

One TSR user laid out her hope that new education secretary Nicky Morgan, Gove's replacement for at least a year, will reverse the decision to remove the popular books from the English literature reading options.

"I really hope that she reverses the decision to remove American novels from GCSE English reading lists. that was arguably the worst thing that Gove ever did," purplesophie mused. 

For history students in-particular, there will be a focus on studying more of Britain's heritage. One passionate history student on TSR thinks it could be a good thing that this is being done.

"I think a Britain-centric history curriculum would be better at developing a sense of cause-and-effect in events, but there is a lot of fascinating world history we don't get taught that could perhaps be integrated somehow, "Unkempt_One reasoned. 

3. It's getting harder and harder to resit

Students taking GCSEs this year will be able to resit English language and Maths in November 2014, as opposed to any other subject they want better grades in. The previous system allowed a candidate to resit any subject in November.

According to MrEFeynman, the effect of this change will have a negative effect - he believes: "Flexibility is the key, not rigidity." 

However, another poster believes resitting is mostly a waste of time: "Only a tiny minority of people do better in re-takes," theike wrote. "So just because you will not have the opportunity of doing re-takes, does not mean you would have done better in them anyway." 

Results day

4. There will be no coursework

Coursework is being scrapped from every GCSE subject and nearly all A-level subjects, leaving students with just exams. Only history A-level has been saved, but even then, coursework will only amount to 20% of the overall grade. These changes are being phased in to the curriculum and will be fully in place by 2015.

According to Dez, the "whole revision process" will be more intense "than ever". 

5. There will be no assessments until the end of year 13

At the moment, students study AS-levels in Year 12 and this helps ease the transition between GCSEs and A-levels. Current plans mean AS-levels will continue to exist but will split from the two-year A-level programme and become a separate qualification altogether. Therefore, AS-levels will have a much lower status than before so many students are likely to opt for a full A-level - which will be assessed only at the end of two years long learning, preparation and revision.

According to Unkempt_One, "the biggest issue for me is the removal of AS-levels, which I can understand from a perspective of improving rigour, but will undermine attempts of universities to even the field for applicants from different backgrounds. More emphasis would have to be placed on personal statements and teacher's evaluations, which will favour private school students". 

However, stefl14 believes "having A-levels at the end of two years" has to be a positive move

With January exams being phased out, MrSupernova has just finished his A2s where he was among the first year of students not to have winter assessments. 

"Speaking as someone who did January exams for my AS's last year, but didn't have them for my A2's this year, I think removing them was the right thing to do. It meant we spent less time doing and slugging for exams, and more time actually learning," he wrote.

More on TSR: 
Check out our thread on Michael Gove's legacy on education
Post questions to our expert A-level helpers in the forums 
Click to use our new personal statement tool

We hope you find this article useful. If you've got any comments on how we can make it even better, please add them to our articles feedback thread.