HC Deb 02 March 1987 vol 111 cc572-4
2. Mr. Raffan

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the future of A-level examinations in the light of the consequential change in teaching methods following the introduction of the GCSE.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wyn Roberts)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science announced on 25 February that he is appointing a committee to review A-levels, with the aim of maintaining or improving the present character and rigorous standards of these examinations. The committee will certainly take account of the changes brought about by the introduction of the GCSE.

Mr. Raffan

Does my hon. Friend agree that as the GCSE involves radical fundamental changes in the structure and philosophy of secondary education it would be highly undesirable if those now studying for the GCSE had to revert to the old learning approaches, the old teaching techniques and to the old classroom methodology when they enter the sixth form? Is it true, that as the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) has recently alleged, that there has been a decline in A-level success rates between 1981–1985, or is it the case that once again the hon. Gentleman has not done his homework and is completely wrong?

Mr. Roberts

With regard to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, the introduction of the GCSE, which is regarded as a tremendous improvement by all involved in education, will have implications for other, more advanced examinations. With regard to the A-level results in Wales, the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) was, indeed, wrong. The truth is that in 1981, 57 per cent. of those who tried three A-levels were successful. By 1985, that figure had risen to 62 per cent. The success rate of those trying one A-level remained almost constant at about 57 per cent., and the success rate of those trying two A-levels rose from 41 to 45 per cent.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Will the Minister give us a clear statement as to whether he envisages GCSE taking over from A-levels, bearing in mind that the level of certificate is dependent on the whole school record? What is the position of tertiary colleges in relation to the current falling rolls? Will the Secretary of State encourage those colleges?

Mr. Roberts

There is no question of GCSE taking over from A-levels. We are trying to assess the effects of GCSE on A-levels, and to act according to the advice that we receive. Of course, we encourage local education authorities to consider tertiary colleges, sixth-form colleges and all the other options available to them.

Mr. Grist

Will my hon. Friend take the chance that the review opens up to him, to try to look again at the teaching of foreign languages in our schools? Does he agree that at both GCSE level and A-level or AS-level, our languages should be taught so that they can be used by people in business and in everyday life, rather than just to read Moliere or whatever?

Mr. Roberts

My hon. Friend is right, although I do not agree with him about the lack of merit in reading Moliere. We have given guidance on the teaching of foreign languages, and the fact is that we have spare teaching capacity in many foreign languages, such as Spanish and Italian, from which our children could benefit.