HL Deb 19 November 1992 vol 540 cc716-8

3.25 p.m.

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have for the future of the General Certificate of Secondary Education.

The Minister of State, Department of Education (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) will continue as the examination marking the end of compulsory schooling at age 16. The Government are taking firm action to correct deficiencies revealed by the recent HMI report on GCSE examining standards and to secure those standards in the future. A mandatory code of practice will be introduced to regulate the conduct of GCSE examinations from 1993. Compliance by the examining groups with that code will be a condition for the continuing approval of their GCSE qualifications.

Baroness David

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. As in the past few years there have been so many changes in what is expected of teachers and students as regards the contents of and preparation for the GCSE, and with no research to back those changes, will the Minister assure the House that in future the Schools Examination and Assessment Council will be responsible for the examination and that there will not be the interference of Ministers, as has been the case during the past two years?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the school curriculum will be kept under constant review by the Schools Examination and Assessment Council and the National Curriculum Council.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, did the Minister note that in the recently published list of schools there was a special school in my former constituency, the pupils of which could not possibly take the GCSE? As a result yesterday's published list read, "0, 0, 0". Does the Department of Education know what special schools are for and that the GCSE is not a judgment on such schools? Somebody ought to be sacked.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it is well known that the special schools in the system had no results for the GCSE because there are special schools which do not offer that examination. That is known nationally and it is certainly known locally.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, will my noble friend assure me that while the GCSE exists results will be published annually, as was done recently? Will she also advise me why up and down Whitehall all kinds of private and confidential government documents can be leaked to newspapers but the most secret information appears to be the results of school examinations?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, there is now an end to that absolute secrecy. The examination results are rightly the preserve of parents and from now on that information will be made available to them every year.

Lord Addington

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the new examination places greater emphasis on written work? Does she also agree that when people with special educational needs such as dyslexics apply for special dispensation they will have printed on the bottom of the examination certificate the fact that the examination was taken with a concession? That is seen by many staff and pupils as a disincentive to applying for the special provision which allows them to take the examination. Does the Minister further agree that that matter should be considered because there is a great danger that pupils will not take the examinations using the correct methods and therefore will have less chance of passing them?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, that information is not put into the public domain but is printed on the certificate which is particular to an individual. It is important that we continue to make available help and assistance to people who have difficulties with the written and spoken word.

Lord Carr of Hadley

My Lords, while I strongly support the publication of such information, might it not be sensible to exclude from the list those schools which for good reasons do not sit the examinations rather than including figures which give the wrong impression?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point, as did the noble Lord, Lard Merlyn-Rees. We need to take note of it. This is the first exercise of its kind. It is important to get the information into the public domain. A number of lessons will be learned from this first attempt. I shall certainly draw your Lordships' remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the worst feature of the matter is the constant chopping and changing? That seems to be inspired by the Government and, as my noble friend said, is often based on inadequate research. Is the noble Baroness aware that when any change is made, it is sheer common sense for that change to be given a fair trial? Is she further aware of the effect that these provisions are having on parents, governors, pupils and not least on teachers who are quite dismayed at what is happening as regards the GCSE at present?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord overstates the case. In education the lead-in time for change is considerable. It will be 2003 before the first cohort of children leave school at the age of 16, having taken GCSEs and having studied the national curriculum from the age of five. That is an extremely long lead-in time for change.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that no fewer than four schools in my old constituency are at the top of the list as published? They are proud and grateful for being able to preserve their grammar school status.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my noble friend is rightly proud of those achievements. There are schools which many people would have written down in their expectations for example, schools in inner city areas —which have performed extremely well. The object of publishing the results is to make public those achievements.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, the Minister should realise by now that what teachers, parents and governors are asking for is a period of stability. People are sick and tired of the changes that have been taking place. I know that changes must take place. However, will the Minister not realise that the time has come for a period of stability so that people can look at the situation and work on it?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I understand what the noble Lord is saying when he refers to implementation of the national curriculum. However, the most recent changes have been as a direct result of talking to teachers and making implementation easier for them. We shall continue to do that.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I believe it is time to move on. We should be fair to all those who have tabled Questions.