The tension between the coalition partners in the British government has never been far below the surface, but the latest battle between the Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the Tory Education Minister Michael Gove has made them more visible then ever. At issue are the plans unveiled by Gove some time ago to move away from the venerable GCSE exams to a new testing regime similar to the O-Level examinations.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the Lib-Dems, with Clegg leading the charge, expressed extreme dissatisfaction with Gove's plan to replace the GCSEs with the two tiers of examinations that the GCSE themselves replaced. Under Gove's plan, brighter students would be encouraged to take the more challenging O-Level-style exams, while the less academically ambitious would be steered towards less difficult CSEs.
In the end, the Lib-Dems succeeded in having the implementation of the plan pushed back until at least after the next general election scheduled for 2015. It is anticipated that should Labour win back power at that time, the two-tier exam plan will be shelved permanently. According to the same Telegraph report, the upcoming announcement that 14-year-olds will begin to prepare for the new exams in 2015 is an attempt by the Coalition to play down the inter-party difficulties and a salve to Gove.
When they sit the first examinations in the spring of 2016, a far smaller proportion will go on to win top grades than the three in 10 who are currently awarded As and A-starred GCSEs. Mr Gove will announce that there will be no starred grades, and only one in 10 pupils will receive the new top mark of a Grade 1 in each exam they sit
The new regime will also do away with continuous assessment and 8-week GCSE modules, instead using a three-hour exam that covers the entire two-year course to assess student attainment. The students will also lose the opportunity to improve their grades by resitting only the portion of the exam on which they underperformed.
Both of the Coalition parties have been keen to see the introduction of more rigorous teaching in key subjects such as maths and English. The new qualification will see the return of tricky algebra questions in maths and written essays in English literature.
Conservative and Lib Democrat education experts spent the summer thrashing out an agreement on the qualification in an attempt to avoid it becoming the subject of a new Coalition rift.
Clegg took particular exception to the fact that neither he, nor any of his Lib-Dem colleagues, were consulted while the testing regime was being developed. Furthermore, he felt that the reintroduction of the two-tier system would fuel criticism that the education system in the country was increasingly elitist, and would furthermore stigmatize students who were forced to take the second-tier exams.