Gove and his right-wing Tory allies, such as the Daily Mail, earnestly desire to re-introduce selection , but know that if they did so straightaway in one leap they would court a whirlwind of resistance. So he’s adopted the next best thing – phasing out GCSE which was designed for Comprehensives and bringing back the Certificate of Secondary Eduacation (CSE) for ‘less intelligent’ children, as was used in the secondary moderns of the 1950s. The ultimate goal is obvious: the resurrection of the old grammar school/secondary modern divide, When taken in conjunction with examples like Kent County Council drawing on Gove’s own earlier legislation to expand grammar schools in the county, it seems clear that the Tory fixation of high-achievers at the expense of the rest has now firmly taken hold.
Even this partial move will be sharply divisive. The CSE will become the trademark of the North and of concentrations of poverty throughout the country. Not that Gove has given much thought to it, so firmly his gaze is fixed on the nostalgic restoration of the assumed O-level gold standard. But it will effectively divide the sheep from the goats with all the panache of the previous bygone era.
Though Gove seeks to aid his case by emphasising the need for a more rigorous assessment system, the issue of grade inflation driven by rival examination boards angling for market share could easily be met within the current system by having a single authority responsible for assessment in each subject. Anyway GCSE grades were based on understanding particular areas of knowledge as opposed to grades being allocated to given proportions of pupils, and under the GCSE system more than three-quarters of pupils now obtain 5 or more A*-C grades compared with only half around a decade ago.
Gove is one of Thatcher’s class warriors, wily enough to re-introduce selection in a way that won’t frighten off Tory middle class voters. Previously the divide, which was bitterly contested, separate the top 20% from the rest. This time the divide will be between the top 75% and an under-class of 25%, but low enough to offer security to Tory parents that their own children are unlikely to be excluded. Whether that provides good education is another matter. The best schools internationally don’t divide pupils into different streams and don’t reinforce failure as selective tests and two-tier qualifications certainly do