Qualification reform in England since 1950
This timeline is based on Derek Gillard’s excellent and comprehensive website 'Education in England: the history of our schools'.
The first General Certificate of Education (GCE) exams were taken
GCE O-levels replaced the School Certificate and were introduced as an academically rigorous preparation for A-levels. The more vocational Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) was introduced later.
The Diploma in Technology was introduced
Awarded by the National Council for Technological Awards between 1955 and 1971, the Diploma was awarded by Boards of Study for engineering and non-engineering specialisms.
The Carr Report, Recruitment and Training of Young Workers in Industry, published
One of the earliest reports calling for Britain to have a highly trained workforce. The report found that employers overwhelmingly opposed vocational instruction being provided by schools.
The Beloe Report, Secondary School Examinations other than the GCE, published
This report from a Committee appointed by the Secondary School Examinations Council led to the introduction of the more vocational Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) in 1965.
Schools Council for the Curriculum and Examinations established
As recommended by the Lockwood Report, this Council was established to disseminate ideas about curricular reform in England and Wales.
Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) introduced in England and Wales
As recommended by the 1960 Beloe Report, the Certificate of Secondary Education was introduced as a more practical alternative to the academic O-level.
Schools Council began working on ideas for a single examination system
This would ultimately lead to the merger of CSEs and O-levels.
Waddell Report, School Examinations, published
This recommended a single exam at age 16 to replace the GCE O Level and CSE. The first GCSE exams were taken in 1988.
The White Paper, Secondary School Examinations - A single system at 16 plus, published
This set out in greater detail government proposals for replacing O-levels and CSEs with the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE).
DES/Welsh Office A framework for the school curriculum
This set out the government’s thinking on the school curriculum.
The Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) announced
From its 1983 pilot until 1997, this initiative for 14- to 18-year-olds led to the replacement of woodwork and home economics with DT and food tech. It was administered by the Manpower Services Commission (MSC).
The Higginson Report, Advancing A Levels, published
Called for a broadening of A-level study and for students to study five or so subjects, along the lines of the French baccalauréat. Despite a popular reception, it was rejected by Mrs Thatcher’s government.
The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) introduced
A common exam for 16-year-olds replaced GCE O Levels and CSEs. GCSEs have been reformed many times since and tens of millions have been awarded. More adults in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have GCSEs than any other qualification.
Modern Apprenticeships launched
Introduced by then-Chancellor Kenneth Clarke, the number of apprenticeships rose from 20,000 in 1993 to 250,000 in 1998
The Dearing Review Review, Qualifications for 16-19 Year Olds, published
Commissioned by Gillian Shepherd, this was the second review produced by Sir Ron Dearing. It sought to bring A-levels and GNVQs into closer alignment and to upskill the national workforce.
The Tomlinson Report, 14-19 Curriculum and Qualifications Reform, published
This report famously sought to replace GCSEs, A Levels and other 14-19 qualifications with a new single modular diploma at four levels. It did not come to fruition, although its main proposals have resurfaced from time to time.
White Paper, 14-19 Education and Skills, published
The Labour government’s White Paper rejected most of the 2004 Tomlinson Report’s recommendations.
Joseph Rowntree Foundation's Tackling Low Educational Achievement published
This report called for the reform of school league tables, especially at GCSE, which it said discouraged many schools from admitting pupils who might lower their scores. The role of exams in school accountability measures continues to be an issue of considerable debate.
The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) established
Ofqual, the current exams regulator, was launched. Its initial Chief Regulator was Kathleen Tattersall.
The Education and Skills Act
To tackle the ‘NEET’ phenomenon (young people ‘not in education, employment or training’), this increased the school leaving age from 16 to 18 and made a variety of provisions relating to the education or training of young adults.
Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee Report on the National Curriculum
This report argued that the National Curriculum was in ‘urgent need of significant reform’.
The Nuffield Foundation's Education for All: The future of education and training for 14-19 year olds report published
The final report of the Nuffield Review of 14-19 education and training published its findings on quality of learning; curriculum; assessment; qualifications; progression to employment; training and higher education; provision of education and training; and governance and policy.
The Wolf Report on Vocational Education published
The Wolf report’s longest lasting impacts were the consolidation of Level 3 vocational qualifications and the policy of 16- to 18-year-olds without a C or 4 grade in English Language and/or Mathematics having to resit the exams.
Education Committee: Participation by 16-19 year olds in education and training
A report by the Commons Education Select Committee expressed concerns about the government’s decision to abolish the Education Maintenance Allowance.
Education Committee: The English Baccalaureate
A report by the Commons Education Select Committee warned that there was little support for the government’s proposals to introduce the EBacc, which encouraged schools and pupils to study for GCSEs in certain rigorous subjects.
Education Committee: The administration of examinations for 15-19 year olds in England
A report by the Commons Education Select Committee with conclusions ranging from exam entry fees to textbooks to accountability measures.
Education Committee: From GCSEs to EBCs: the Government's proposals for reform
The Commons Education Select Committee criticised Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove’s plans for an English Baccalaureate (not to be confused with the EBacc), favouring GCSEs. The plans were abandoned a week later.
Education Committee: Apprenticeships and traineeships for 16 to 19 year-olds
A report by the Commons Education Select Committee argued for better quality apprenticeships which would not be seen as a ‘second class option’.