With your permission Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the future of examinations and assessment in our schools.
The examination which the overwhelming majority of young people sit at 16 - the GCSE - was designed with the best of intentions. It sought to broaden the numbers engaging in academic study and prepare for an expansion of further and higher education.
In the years since it was established we have undoubtedly seen improvements in our education system - and those responsible - heads, teachers, parents, students and reformers like Kenneth Baker and Andrew Adonis - deserve our praise.
But the GCSE was conceived - and designed - for a different age and a different world.
A time before majority participation in higher education, a world where information technology was in its infancy. When the GCSE was first taught the school leaving age was still 16, state planned economies dominated half the globe and the internet was a work of science fiction.
Now that we are raising the education participation age to 18, now that nations which were slow developers 20 years ago are outstripping us economically, and now that ways of learning have been so dramatically transformed in all our lifetimes, it is right that we reform our examination system.
Because we know that the old model - the eighties model - is no longer right for now. We know that the record increases in performance at GCSE have not been matched by the same level of improvement in learning - while pass rates have soared we have fallen down the international education league tables.
We know that employers and academics have become less confident in the worth of GCSE passes - they fear students lack the skills for the modern workplace and the knowledge for advanced study.
We know that children's achievements are not properly recognised - with even the Hon Member for West Derby - an education minister in the last Labour Government - admitting under duress that there was grade inflation under that Government.
And we know - most recently - and most tellingly - that changes made to GCSEs under the last Government - specifically the introduction of modules and the expansion of coursework in schools - further undermined the credibility of exams - leaving young people without the rigorous education they deserved.
Only last week the OECD reported that in the years up until 2010 our education system still had not been reformed enough to keep pace with the best in the world.
Critical to reform is ending an exam system that has narrowed the curriculum, forced idealistic professionals to teach to the test and encouraged heads to offer children the softest possible options.
It is time for the race to the bottom to end. It is time to tackle grade inflation and dumbing down. It is time to raise aspirations and restore rigour to our examinations.
We have already taken steps to improve vocational qualifications. Following on from the Wolf review we have ensured there is proper assessment, more rigorous content and tighter quality controls on vocational courses. And we’re reforming post-16 funding to improve the education of those taking vocational courses.
Today marks the next stage in radical exam reform, to equip children for the 21st century and allow us to compete with the best performing education nations.
We want to ensure modules - which encourage bite-size learning and spoon-feeding, teaching to the test and gaming of the system - go, once and for all.
We want to remove controlled assessment and coursework from core subjects. These assessment methods have – in all too many cases – corrupted the fair testing of all students. We want to ensure that children are tested transparently on what they - and they alone - can do at the end of years of deep learning. Where individual practical work needs to be assessed, we will be flexible. But we cannot have a system where some students enjoy an inbuilt and unfair advantage over others because of the exam design.
We also want to end the current two-tier division of exams into foundation and higher tiers which condemn thousands of students to courses which place a cap on aspiration
And – critically – we will end the competition between exam boards which has led to a race to the bottom with different boards offering easier courses or assistance to teachers in a corrupt effort to massage up pass rates.
We will invite exam boards to offer wholly new qualifications in the core subject areas - English, maths, the sciences, history, geography and languages.
In each subject area only one exam board will offer the new exams. Ofqual, as the independent exams regulator, will assess all the exams put forward by the exams boards. From those which Ofqual accept, the winner will be the board which offers the course which best meets the criteria, benchmarked to the world's best, informed by academic expertise, and capable of both recognising exceptional performance and allowing the overwhelming majority of students to have their work recognised and graded fairly.
We plan to call these new qualifications - in these core academic subjects - English Baccalaureate Certificates - recognising that they are the academic foundation which is the secure base on which further study, vocational learning or a satisfying apprenticeship can be built. Success in English, maths, the sciences, a humanities subject and a language will mean the student has the full English Baccalaureate.
Some will argue that more rigorous qualifications in these subjects will inevitably lead to more students failing. But we believe that fatalism is indicative of a dated mind-set; one that believes in fixed abilities that great teaching can do little to change.
And we know that great teaching is changing lives even as we speak. We have the best generation of teachers and headteachers we have ever had. Their excellence combined with reforms and improvements to education that this Government are making through improved teacher training, greater freedoms for headteachers and the growth of academies and free schools means more students will be operating at a higher level.
So even as exams become more rigorous, more students will be equipped to clear this higher bar. Indeed, we are explicitly ambitious for all our children – and we believe that over time we will catch up with the highest performing nations and a higher proportion of children will clear the bar than now.
We expect that everyone who now sits a GCSE should sit this new qualification. But of course there will be some students who will find it difficult to sit these exams, just as there are students who do not sit GCSEs today. We will make special, indeed enhanced, provision, for these students with their schools required to produce a detailed record of their achievement in each curriculum area at 16 which will help them make progress subsequently - and we anticipate some will secure EBacc Certificates at the age of 17 or 18.
These reforms are radical - and so we will consult widely. Their introduction will require careful preparation. So we propose first teaching of new certificates in English, maths and the sciences in September 2015 with other subjects following.
And to ensure that the benefits of this more rigorous approach to the English Baccalaureate subjects are felt across the whole curriculum, we will ask Ofqual to consider how these new higher standards can be used as a template for judging and accrediting a new suite of qualifications, beyond these subjects to replace current GCSEs.
These changes will also require us to consider afresh how we hold schools accountable - so we will consult widely on replacements for existing league tables - and we are determined to have even better ways of recognising schools which add value and help the poorest. And to recognise the best vocational as well as academic qualifications.
Mr Speaker - after years of drift, decline and dumbing down, at last we are reforming our examination system to compete with the world's best.
Just as we were left with a legacy of mismanagement, poor incentives and wasted talent in economic policy by the last Government and this coalition is turning the economy round so we were left the same legacy in our examination system - and this coalition is now modernising our exam system so we can have truly rigorous exams, competitive with the best in the world, and making opportunity more equal for every child.
Which is why I commend these reforms to the House.