Press release: New reforms to raise standards and improve behaviour

  • Bar raised so a ‘good pass’ grade at GCSE will match that of top-performing countries
  • Behaviour expert to develop new training that backs teachers and deals with low-level disruption in classrooms – which costs pupils an hour of learning a day
  • Schools to ensure every pupil studies core academic subjects

Nicky Morgan today (16 June 2015) cemented the government’s commitment to social justice with a raft of new measures to ensure every child leaves school with world-class qualifications in crucial academic subjects.

The plans underline the government’s clear one-nation agenda – giving every child the chance to go to a great school, securing them a brighter future and giving families the assurance that their children are getting the very best education and opportunities.

The move marks the final stage of reform to GCSEs and follows bold reforms to the education system – with more than a million more children now in ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools than in 2010.

The new measures will place our education system on a par with the best-performing countries, pushing expectations and aspirations of young people and ensuring they can compete with peers across the globe to secure the government’s vision of full employment.

Speaking at King Solomon Academy in north London, where almost all pupils already study core academic subjects despite many coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, the Education Secretary will announce that:

  • pupils starting secondary school this September must study the key English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects of English, maths, science, history or geography, and a language at GCSE. This will make sure that pupils get the rigorous academic education they need to succeed – whether that is getting a place at university, starting an apprenticeship, or finding their first job
  • the achievement of a level 5 on the new 1 to 9 grading scale at GCSE will be considered the new ‘good pass’ that will be used to hold the government and schools to account. This is comparable to a low B or high C under the old grading system and raises the bar for performance across the board
  • a new school behaviour expert, Tom Bennett, will draw up plans to help teachers deal with low-level disruption in classrooms. Ofsted have found that children are losing up to an hour of learning a day to the problem – this step will back teachers so that they can get on with their job and focus on teaching

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said:

As part of this government’s commitment to social justice we want every single person in the country to have access to the best opportunities Britain has to offer – starting with an excellent education.

This means ensuring children study key subjects that provide them with the knowledge they need to reach their potential – while setting a higher bar at GCSE so young people, their parents and teachers can be sure that the grades they achieve will help them get on in life.

And it means giving new teachers the training they need to tackle low-level bad behaviour which unfairly disrupts pupils’ learning.


The EBacc was introduced in 2010 as for too long pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, were deterred from studying academic subjects. This closed doors to them in later life.

Since its introduction the EBacc has stopped the long-term drift away from important subjects like modern languages. The proportion of pupils entered into the EBacc has almost doubled, rising from 22% in 2010 to 39% in 2014.

However, there is still more to do to ensure all pupils get the chance to study these crucial subjects and we will work closely with school leaders to achieve this. The government’s intention is that pupils starting secondary school this September (year 7) will study the EBacc when they reach their GCSEs, with pupils taking exams in these subjects in 2020.

Max Heimendorf, headteacher of King Solomon Academy secondary school, said:

At King Solomon Academy, we believe in depth before breadth. This means prioritising rapid progress in English and mathematics prior to GCSE. Whatever their background, our pupils gain a foundation for academic excellence and are able to access all subjects, including the EBacc.

Alongside a fully rounded curriculum which includes participating in a full string orchestra, residential trips, quality work placements and performing unabridged Shakespeare plays, our pupils’ achievements in these qualifications allow them to study from the full range of subjects at A level and keep open as many options as possible for university and beyond.

Good pass

As part of the government’s plans to ensure pupils can compete with the top performers in the world and secure the best jobs a new grading system is being introduced from 2017 at GCSE to replace the A to U system with a new 9 to 1 scale.

This will reflect the fact that the government is also introducing new reformed, more rigorous GCSEs that bring them in line with other high-performing countries.

The Secretary of State is today announcing that under the new system, a ‘good pass’ – currently a C grade – will become a grade 5 under the new scale. The new ‘good pass’ is comparable to a high C or low B under the current system – making it comparable to the standard aimed for by pupils in top-performing countries such as Finland, Canada, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

The new grading system will also be more responsive to the needs of employers, universities and colleges and will support the government’s commitment to achieving full employment. They will be able to set their grade requirements for particular jobs or courses much more accurately.

Crucially, schools and teachers will no longer be judged on moving pupils over a narrow attainment borderline. The government will encourage schools to raise the attainment of pupils at every level by replacing 5 A* to C with Progress 8 as the new headline performance measure – giving credit to the progress made by all pupils.

To ensure all students benefit from the reformed qualifications the Secretary of State is also announcing that only the new gold standard GCSEs will be included in the key stage 4 performance tables as they are introduced.

Tackling low-level disruption

The government has already made great strides in empowering teachers to crack down on bad behaviour, making clear teachers can use reasonable force to maintain behaviour, extending their searching powers and allowing teachers to impose same-day detentions. But now we are building on this work by giving new teachers the training to deal with low-level disruption that stops pupils learning.

Last year Ofsted found children could be losing up to an hour of learning a day because of low-level disruption, the equivalent of 38 days lost every year.

The inspectorate found children were having a significant impact on the learning of others by taking up teachers’ time by swinging on chairs, playing on mobile phones, making silly comments to get attention and passing notes around class. While these are minor in themselves, they create a stream of disruption that can make teaching impossible and stop those young people who want to get on and learn.

Teachers tell us they are never trained to deal with this low-level disruption so today the Secretary of State is announcing further assistance for schools, asking behaviour expert Tom Bennett to lead a new group to develop better training for new teachers on how to tackle the problem.

The aim is for all schools to be able to replicate the work done by many heads and teachers across the country to tackle the problem.

He will showcase the work of schools like St Gregory’s Catholic Science College in Harrow where the headteacher visits each class at different times each day so that teachers can highlight good work or flag inappropriate behaviour.

Tom Bennett, school behaviour expert and Director of researchED, said:

Behaviour has been the elephant in the classroom for too long, and the amount of learning time lost because of disruption is a tragedy. At present training teachers to anticipate, deal with and respond to misbehaviour is far too hit and miss- great in some schools and training providers, terrible in others.

Parents and children deserve safe, calm learning spaces, and teachers deserve to be equipped with sensible strategies that maximise learning, safety and flourishing. I’m delighted to lead a group which will offer advice on doing just that.

Andy Prindiville, headteacher of St Gregory’s Catholic Science College in Brent, rated ‘outstanding’ for behaviour by Ofsted, said:

As a headteacher I make clear to all my students that nobody has the right the stop anyone else from learning. That is the problem with low-level disruptive behaviour – it stops others learning and that is completely unacceptable.

Anything that can be done to prepare those entering the teaching profession to tackle underlying behaviour issues is always going to be a good thing.

Notes for editors

  1. Only the new reformed GCSEs will be included in the key stage 4 performance tables, as reformed GCSEs are introduced. This will ensure that all students have access to the best qualifications and that there is consistency in terms of exams in these subjects, including linearity (exams at the end of the 2-year course) and limited non-exam assessment.
  2. The government recognises the EBacc will not be appropriate for a small minority of pupils and so we will work to understand this and be clear with schools what we expect for this minority of pupils. The detail will be set out in the autumn and there will be a full public consultation on these proposals.
  3. The new 9 to 1 GCSE grading system was announced by Ofqual in September 2014. It will apply to all reformed GCSEs when they are introduced from September 2015 onwards. The bottom of a current grade C will be broadly equivalent to the bottom of the new grade 4. Grade 5 will be positioned in the top third of the marks for a current Grade C and bottom third of the marks for a current Grade B. This will mean it will be of greater demand than the present grade C, and broadly in line with what the best available evidence indicates is the average PISA performance in countries such as Finland, Canada, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
  4. Broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a grade 7 and above as currently achieve an A and above. For each examination, the top 20% of those who get grade 7 or above will get a grade 9 – the very highest performers.
  5. The bottom of grade 1 will be aligned with the bottom of grade G.

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