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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 August, 2003, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
A-levels 'a rigorous test' of ability
Schools Minister, David Miliband MP
David Miliband MP insisted that A-levels remain a rigorous test of students' abilities
On Sunday, 17 August 2003, Breakfast with Frost featured an interview with the Schools Minister, David Miliband MP.

This Sunday, Breakfast with Frost was again presented by Peter Sissons.

Peter interviewed the Schools Minister David Miliband MP, and the Chairman of the Headmasters' Conference Graham Able.

He also interviewed the Director General of the Prison Service Phil Wheatley and the Director General of the World Health Organisation Dr Lee Jong Wook.

He discussed the start of the new Premiership football season with Rachel Heyhoe Flint, director of Wolverhampton Wanderers and the Times journalist Alison Rudd.

And he discussed the controversial Atkins diet with Ann Leslie and the dietician Lucille Daniels.

A levels 'no easier'

David Miliband insisted that A-levels remain a rigorous test of students' abilities, but he acknowledged that reform was needed to broaden the scope of education in the 14-to-19 age group.

He also rejected as unfounded suggestions that students' ever improving performance in A-levels was because the examinations were getting easier.

He said: "Not just my position but the Government's position, which is perhaps more important than my position, is that we are ready to build reform on the strengths of our existing system ... A broader offer to young people, stronger vocational courses, which I think has been a long-standing problem in our country.

"And we have asked Mike Tomlinson, the highly respected former Chief Inspector of Schools, to spend a year and a half with a group of experts looking at how we can have a 14-to-19 system that really does serve across the ability range and helps every young person develop their talent to the full."

Drug abuse swells prison population

The Director General of the Prison Service Phil Wheatley told Peter that the number of people being given custodial sentences is contributing to a record suicide rate in jails and he warned that custody should not be over-used.

And he gave further evidence of the extent to which drug abuse is fuelling crime, disclosing that three quarters of those entering jail have been using drugs.

Amanda Platell and Marc Roche, London Correspondent of Le Monde
Sunday newspapers were reviewed by Amanda Platell and Marc Roche
He said that it was difficult to work out why the number of suicides has increased: "Some of that is because of overcrowding.

It is not so much the overcrowding, it is just the sheer pressure of numbers, which means that we are moving people into a local prison from the courts, then moving them out very quickly, with staff not having sufficient time to try to understand the individual needs of individual prisoners.

Prison not the answer to crime

"But it is a very, very needy population, coming in with mental health problems, severe drug problems, facing long sentences, often with from their point of view their life having fallen apart.

"And most of the suicide problems do relate to that period immediately after coming into prison.

"We are not the answer to crime ... It is important we don't over-use it, it is expensive, it is disruptive to the loved ones of those who come inside, often entirely innocent families and children who find that their whole life has to change as a result, it is a difficult experience to get through, it shouldn't be lightly used."

Mr Wheatley set out the scale of the drugs problem the service faces.

"We know that about three quarters of our population have been using drugs immediately before they come in, just short of half of those using opiates, and a quarter of those using them almost on a daily basis."

The Sunday newspapers were reviewed by the columnist Amanda Platell and Marc Roche, London Correspondent of Le Monde.


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SEE ALSO:
A-level grades 'are fair'
18 Aug 03  |  Education


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