Bradford Council’s children’s chief spoke of his anger at government plans to ‘toughen up’ GCSEs by overhauling the exam system, branding them ‘toxic’.

Councillor Ralph Berry, executive member for children’s services, said sweeping changes announced by Education Secretary Michael Gove yesterday – which include scrapping coursework in some subjects, axing the current grading system and ending modular exams – were an ‘attack on education’.

Mr Gove told the Commons the new exams will be ‘more challenging, more ambitious and more rigorous’, saying: “Young people in this country deserve an education system that can compete with the best in the world, a system which sets – and achieves – high expectations.”

But Coun Berry, who said his children would be affected by the changes, dismissed suggestions the exams were getting easier and criticised a lack of consultation.

“I think it’s toxic,” he said. “There has been a really positive move by schools, teachers, parents and pupils to drive up standards. It has and it was intended to, so what’s the problem?

“It is wrong to remove coursework, which employers tell us prepares students for the world of work. I’m not saying I’m against change, but it’s not right if people don’t understand it and if it creates anxiety. My children are concerned about it, and their friends.”

New GCSEs in English language, English literature, maths, biology, chemistry, physics, combined science, geography and history are due to be introduced in England in September 2015, with teenagers sitting the first exams in the summer of 2017.

England’s exams regulator Ofqual also announced proposals to change the structure of GCSEs, with the A*-G system axed and replaced by a numbered eight to one scheme, with eight representing the highest grade.

The Council’s Liberal Democrat group leader Coun Jeanette Sunderland welcomed the changes.

“The whole focus is to make sure GCSEs are as challenging as exams in other countries. We need to not only to raise the standards of pupils from different backgroups, but also to compete with different countries.”

The Council’s Conservative group education spokesman Coun Roger L’Amie said he believed it was important people had faith in the validity of the exam system.

“We need to have an exam system that everyone has confidence in. It’s important to the people taking exams that other people respect the qualification they have.

“My feeling is that the form of the exam has to be appropriate to the subject that is being examined, for example I don’t believe painting can be assessed in an hour and a half exam, but a maths exam should be a pencil and paper exercise.”