HC Deb 03 July 1979 vol 969 cc1086-8
5 Mr. Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if the Schools Council has put any proposals to him for new examinations to replace A-levels; and if he will make a statement.

6. Dr. Hampson

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects the Schools Council to report to him on the N and F examination proposals.

Mr. Mark Carlisle

The N and F examination proposals, on which Schools Council working paper 60 invited comments, have encountered opposition from a wide range of interests. It is clear that there is considerable support for retaining the present A-level examinations. I have written to the chairman of the Schools Council informing him that I share the view of those who believe A-levels should stay. I shall set out the full text of my letter in the Official Report.

Mr. Chapman

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that his statement will be widely welcomed, particularly in the universities, where the maintenance of the A-level system—with its established, recognised and widely respected standards—is the best guarantee for the continuation and success of three-year degree courses?

Mr. Carlisle

I am aware that support for the retention of A-levels came from a wide spectrum of opinion, and, as my hon. Friend says, particularly from the universities and those involved in higher education. I believe that my announcement will be welcomed generally.

Dr. Hampson

While my right hon. and learned Friend's statement is welcome, may I ask whether he accepts that there has been a call from many to broaden the education of sixth-formers? Will he review that position, in terms of the curriculum, to ensure in particular that science and technology is understood by the majority of sixth-formers?

Mr. Carlisle

My hon. Friend is right and I fully recognise that A-levels do not meet the needs of all sixth-formers. The paper by the Schools Council to which I referred sets out various alternative examinations. I have asked the council to let me have a copy of the comments that it received on the N and F proposals. I shall then consider those, together with the report of Professor Keohane, who is due to report later in the year on the matter of a certificate of extended education.

Mr. Christopher Price

The House is grateful for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's recognition of the fact that A-levels are appropriate only to a minority of sixth-form pupils. However, when will a statement be made about his views on the CEE or the development of the N and F proposals? The consultations on N and F have been continuing for the past 15 years and it would be a pity if all the work by teachers, administrators and others towards creating a broader sixth-form curriculum were to be torn up and wasted.

Mr. Carlisle

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not fully understand my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson). I accept that the A-level is appropriate for those who are going on to courses of higher education. Nevertheless, I have stated that I have invited the Schools Council to let me have the comments which it has received on the N and F proposals. I accept that the A-level is not necessarily the appropriate examination for every sixth-former. As for the CEE, the hon. Gentleman will know that my predecessor in the previous Parliament set up the committee under Professor Keohane. That committee has not yet reported, but when it does I shall consider its report.

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