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Unions 2000 Friday, 10 March, 2000, 20:48 GMT
A-level 'gold standard' assured
Baroness Blackstone
Baroness Blackstone says A-level changes will not threaten quality
Alison Stenlake reports from the Secondary Heads Association's annual conference in Harrogate.

Changes to the A-level system will not lead to a drop in standards, head teachers have been told.

Education Minister Tessa Blackstone said that by "broadening" the current post-16 education system, the government would "no way compromise on depth".

She added that "A-level standards must be maintained, and, when necessary, enhanced".

Baroness Blackstone was speaking to members of the Secondary Heads Association at the union's annual conference in Harrogate.

The changes to the A-level system have been prompted by concerns that pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are specialising too early.

Traditional A-levels

The reforms, to be implemented in September 2000, will provide schools and colleges with the option of adopting them or continuing with the traditional three A-levels.

Under the reforms, those staying on at school or college will be able to study around five subjects in the first year at Advanced Subsidiary (AS) standard, with three of these being continued to full A-levels in the second year.

This will allow students to continue combining arts and sciences beyond GCSEs.

Other reforms include a new qualification in "Key Skills" - information technology, numeracy and communications.

Baroness Blackstone told head teachers she was pleased with the "spirit of enthusiasm" with which many schools and colleges were planning to implement the A-level reforms.

Funding queries

She said many universities were now beginning to recognise the need to take account of AS-levels in their entry criteria, and that more needed to do so.

Over the next few months, the government would be working closely with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Committee of Vice-chancellors and Principals, and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service to "ensure that every university understands the reforms and their implications for admissions".

The new Key Skills qualification would cover skills which "should be part of every young person's learning programme", Baroness Blackstone said.

She said she understood the "significant organisational challenge" it represented to schools and colleges, but insisted that employers continued to emphasise the importance of these skills in their recruitment criteria.

"More and more universities are beginning to realise that the qualification will actually address some of the fundamental criticisms that they have been levelling against applicants for many years," she added.

At the conference, concerns were raised by some head teachers that local education authorities were not passing on their share of the 35m funding allocated to help schools implement A-level reforms.

Baroness Blackstone said she would "have to get in touch with LEAs to ask them why this money is not being passed on", and said she wanted to hear from head teachers with specific examples of this.

See also:

19 Mar 99 | UK Education
04 Oct 99 | UK Education
30 Jun 99 | UK Education
16 Jun 99 | UK Education
09 Jun 99 | UK Education
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