HC Deb 03 August 1976 vol 916 cc1418-21
10. Mr. Lane

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will make a statement about the Schools Council's proposal of a single examination to replace GCE and CSE.

Mr. Mulley

The Schools Council recommended to me on 8th July that I should approve the establishment of a common system of examining at 16-plus. I am considering the recommendation but cannot at this stage give an indication of when I shall reach conclusions. As I said in my reply on 6th July to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold), the Schools Council recommendations are of very great importance and it will not be practicable or desirable to reach immediate decisions about them.

Mr. Lane

I am sure that we all welcome the Secretary of State's caution. However, will he look very critically and warily at this proposal in view of the considerable hostility it has aroused already? On this issue at least, will he take a firm stand for academic standards as the paramount consideration in reaching a decision?

Mr. Mulley

I understand the hon. Member's point of view, but on the one hand to commend me to a course of caution and on the other to commit me to a proposition is not wholly consistent.

Mr. Hardy

Will my right hon. Friend be cautious from another point of view and ensure that there is no neglect of the third mode—the school-based mode—which in the present CSE system has been developed so successfully in South Yorkshire?

Mr. Mulley

The proposal suggests that modes 1, 2 and 3 should all be used in any examination system.

Mr. Neubert

Does the Secretary of State agree with the recent comment by a leading headmaster that examinations are a test not only of those who take them but also of those who teach? Perhaps this is the reason for the growing disfavour with which examinations are regarded.

Mr. Mulley

I have no particular affection for examinations. If a body puts proposals before me, I shall examine them. There is much to be said for some reform of the present system. I should, however, be allowed a little time to consider these proposals, because my predecessor in the Conservative Government, the present Leader of the Opposition, took 13 months to reply to a suggestion about the number of grades of A-levels.

Mr. Spearing

Whatever conclusion my right hon. Friend reaches, does he agree that any examination at 16 is a very poor guide to the skills, attainments, aptitudes or abilities of an individual, let alone his prospects for the future? Does my right hon. Friend agree that employers should take more note of an employee's skills and aptitudes rather than rely specifically on this subjective form of testing?

Mr. Mulley

I agree that one should not attach undue importance to examinations. However, from the point of view of motivation of the pupil and the need for sonic sort of assessment, there is unanimous agreement that there should be some kind of examination system. The question we must consider is how best it can be devised and administered.

16. Mr. Cope

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received from the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals following the Schools Council's proposals to scrap the GCE O-level and CSE examinations.

6. Mr. Macfarlane

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received from industrialists concerning the Schools Council proposal to scrap the GCE O-level and the CSE examinations.

15. Mr. Freud

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has had regarding the replacement of CSE and O-level by a single examination.

Mr. Mulley

I have received 70 letters about the Schools Council recommendations on a common system of examining at 16-plus. Of these, three are from industrial interests. In general, my replies have assured correspondents that their representations will be borne in mind. The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals has not made direct representations to me but has sent me a copy of a statement which it has made to the Schools Council.

Mr. Cope

Will the Secretary of State try to educate his Minister of State into the view that as far as university entrance is concerned it is one of the facts of life that selection cannot be eliminated and, therefore, there will be failures? It is only a question of how best one can measure selection and decide who are the failures.

Mr. Mulley

That is a very interesting piece of philosophy, but it does not fit in with the correspondence I have received about the 16-plus examination.

Mr. Christopher Price

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although there is disagreement about the detailed application of any new system of administration of this examination, there is widespread agreement among all sections of the educational movement that a common system of examination is necessary because of the dreadful expense, overlap and waste of public money that is going on under the present system? Does he also agree—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are due to rise on Friday.

Mr. Mulley

There is a great deal in what my hon. Friend says about a common system examination, but I shall not come to a view on it before we rise on Friday.

Mr. Adley

Is the Secretary of State aware that, if present trends continue and all these fashionable views continue to pour forth from such bodies, we shall have children claiming social security at five and pensions at 16?

Mr. Mulley

I have heard the hon. Gentleman to better advantage than he is showing this afternoon. As a matter of history, the Schools Council was established by a Conservative administration.