HC Deb 27 November 1990 vol 181 cc732-4
10. Mr. Evennett

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent representations he has received on the future of GCE A-level examinations.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Some respondents to the School Examinations and Assessment Council's consultation exercise on draft principles to govern A and AS examinations have copied their views to me. I have also received some views directly.

Mr. Evennett

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his reply. We believe in high academic standards. Will he confirm that his aim is to maintain the high academic standard of the GCE A-level examinations that employers, universities and the professions require?

Mr. Clarke

I can certainly confirm that. Also, employers are looking to us to do something about those who ought to stay on after 16 but for whom A-levels are not suitable. The answer lies not in making A-levels easier for more people to pass, but in the arguments put by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. We must have other qualifications, including vocational qualifications, that are of high status and of a good standard and can exist as an alternative alongside A-levels.

Mr. Cousins

Will the Secretary of State ensure that the young men and women who are at present subjected to the narrow, stuffy and repetitive routines of A-level can feel the benefit of the much more open and lively courses that are going on, such as on the certificate of pre-vocational education? That has many young men and women in the west end of Newcastle in my constituency buzzing with commitment and enthusiasm. Will he please ensure that A-level students benefit from such activity?

Mr. Clarke

I share the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for the development of a better system of vocational qualifications. However, it is unnecessary to attack A-levels as he did because they are two separate things. People can take a mixture of both if they wish. It is getting hold of the wrong end of the stick to attack A-levels before going on to commend, sensibly, the development of better and more attractive vocational qualifications.

Mrs. Ann Winterton

In considering the future of A-levels, will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that science subjects continue to be taught as individual subjects and examined individually? Does he agree that that is necessary if we are to continue the high academic standards in Britain?

Mr. Clarke

We have to ensure that science subjects can be taught separately to their present standards where the school and pupils want that and where it is suitable. If we are to have broader science teaching, it must be of the same quality as individual science subjects. Room must be kept in the curriculum and scope must be given to pupils to have separate science subjects if that is what they prefer.

Mr. Fatchett

At a time when university vice-chancellors, polytechnic directors, the Confederation of British Industry, all the teachers' organisations and the Government's Higginson report demand reform of A-levels, why do the Government still resist? Now that the Prime Minister has gone and the fear of her ideological commitment to A-levels is out of the way, why does not the Secretary of State announce that A-level reform is necessary and that we need an integrated modern system of post-16 education and training qualifications?

Mr. Clarke

I am all in favour of broadening the range of the curriculum and the education and training provided for people after the age of 16. The A-level part of that is not the problem. It serves its purpose extremely well for the moment in providing a route to our excellent three-year degree courses. The other part of the picture needs to be addressed first. It is no good putting attacks on A-levels at the top of the agenda when considering how best to improve opportunities for post-16 education.