RADICAL government proposals to axe GCSEs and bring back the old-style O-level will create a hierarchy of students, unions have warned.

The move, which could see “less able” pupils taking simpler qualifications similar to old-style CSEs, would lead to a two-tier system which writes off part of the population, according to teachers’ unions.

Barry Conway, secretary of the Bolton branch of the National Union of Teachers, said: “I presume hanging will be brought back next.

“We move forward in education and this is an example of the Government’s regressive agenda for our children.”

The plans would see the national curriculum in secondary schools scrapped.

Under the proposals pupils would begin studying for “explicitly harder” exams in traditional academic subjects such as English, maths, history, modern languages and the sciences from 2014, with exams taken for the first time in 2016. Papers would be set by a single exam board in order to provide a “gold standard” test across England, according to leaked documents. It would mean that schoolchildren currently in Year Eight, aged 12 and 13, would be the last to take GCSEs.

Mr Conway said that there were criticisms of the GCSE exams but that going back would divide society.

He said: “The O-levels and CSEs create a hierarchy of students through a selective process.

“In the future, will there be the old grammar schools and the tri-parte system?”

Bolton West MP Julie Hilling spoke about the issue yesterday in parliament.

She asked: “CSEs had little value. How can Michael Gove assure me they will have value in the future?”

Mr Gove said: “I’m inspired by the brilliant job teachers do. One of the problems we face is employers don’t have faith in D and E GCSE passes. We are working with employers to ensure they have more faith in the qualifications our young people will have.”