HC Deb 05 July 2001 vol 371 cc393-5
10. Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

If she will make a statement about the AS-level courses. [878]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently announced a review of the advanced level reforms. An interim report is due by the middle of July. My right hon. Friend will then consider carefully the next steps.

Sir Sydney Chapman

Is it not now evident that the hasty reform of the A-level system was ill conceived and not properly thought through? It has led to chaos in the curriculum in many schools. I warmly welcome the Secretary of State's first decision, I think, on taking office—in which I wish her well—which was to order the urgent review on 13 June. When will the review be completed?

Mr. Lewis

My right hon. Friend did indeed act quickly to respond to the concerns that have been expressed both by young people and by teachers about some teething problems in the implementation of the new reforms. The report is being prepared by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, and an interim report will be available by the middle of July. My right hon. Friend intends to act on that report, so that we can put in place the necessary changes, where possible in time for September.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

Many parents hope that their children will have passed their GCSEs and will go on to A-levels in the autumn. I welcome the review, but I hope that it will consider extracurricular activities for such young people, as that is an important part of their development, and examine the difficulties of trying to create a hybrid of a baccalauréat and a gold-standard A-level system.

Mr. Lewis

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the concerns that have been expressed. That is why my right hon. Friend commissioned the review, part of which will be about extra-curricular activities. We intend to make clear to schools in time for September what needs to be done to ensure that the implementation of the reforms runs far more smoothly in future.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box, but I have to tell him that parents, pupils and teachers will have been outraged by his complacent response in describing the difficulties that they have been suffering over AS-levels as "some teething problems". I can assure him that they feel that, over the past year, far from some teething problems, they have had every single tooth drawn slowly without anaesthetic. I hope that he will apologise to pupils, parents and teachers throughout the country for that remark, and join me in congratulating students and teachers on their hard work and perseverance. They now need the confidence and comfort of knowing that there will be no problems with their AS-level results. Will he guarantee that there are sufficient markers in place for the examinations and that all the results will be published on 16 August?

Mr. Lewis

How can it be complacent to commission an urgent review of AS-levels, which was my right hon. Friend's first act immediately after the general election? Many people have said in recent weeks that the principles of the A-level reforms are absolutely right. In fact, they build on proposals that first emerged in 1996, when the hon. Lady's party was in government. With regard to A-level reforms and their effect, let me quote from a couple of school principals and head teachers. Peter Newcombe, principal of Franklin college, Grimsby, said: Students at my college have responded magnificently to the challenge and range of opportunities. Most have successfully sustained four AS levels and they have chosen subjects that broaden and deepen their experience. Chris Henstock, the head teacher at Lutterworth upper school in Leicestershire, said: Fundamentally, I think the curriculum changes are a good thing. I have seen a lot more of my pupils doing a variety of subjects. There is no doubt that the vast majority of people believe that the principles behind the A-level reforms are absolutely right and that they are in the best interests of young people in this country. We are determined that—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the Minister has made his point.