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EDITIONS
Friday, 5 July, 2002, 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK
AS-levels 'here to stay'
Tony Blair
Mr Blair says education is still his priority
AS-levels examinations - the target of so much criticism over the past year - are here to stay, says Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The new curriculum, introduced in September 2000 to broaden sixth form studies, led to many complaints from students and teachers who said the workload was too much.


There is a lot of pressure on children, probably more than before, but the amount of testing is necessary

Tony Blair
Teachers' unions said the exams were yet another example of how students in England were being overtested and, earlier this week, the Conservative Party called for the exams to be abolished.

But, in an interview with the Times Educational Supplement (TES) - carried out before a row broke out over his decision to hire private tutors for his two eldest sons - Mr Blair said AS-levels would stay.

"There is a lot of pressure on children, probably more than before, but the amount of testing is necessary," he told the TES.

I don't think we are testing children more than they do in Germany. We have to benchmark ourselves against the best education systems in the world."

Education 'the priority'

Mr Blair stressed education was still at the heart of the government's policy.

"I said the Budget would be about the health service but the spending review will be about education," Mr Blair said.

"Education is and remains the absolute number one priority for the country because without a quality education system and an educated workforce, we cannot succeed economically."

Last week, Education Secretary Estelle Morris angered teachers by saying there were some state schools she would not "touch with a bargepole" if she were still a teacher.

"I think what Estelle was saying was true in the sense that there are schools which are not doing well enough," he said.

"The majority of teachers do a great job but there are areas of failure within the system that we can't simply turn a blind eye to."

Discipline

Reducing workload and improving discipline were the key to raising morale among the teaching profession, Mr Blair said.

The government was already committed to providing full-time education in special units for permanently excluded children and was considering extending that to those who were temporarily excluded.

"One of the problems I came across the other day was that some schools in the most challenging circumstances end up taking excluded pupils from other schools. We have to do something about that," he said.

Asked why people did not want to be teachers, he said that it was "a tough profession".

In London, with full employment and a booming housing market, some schools faced serious recruitment difficulties.

"It is a really serious problem to get staff into the most challenging schools."

But the picture was not entirely gloomy, he stressed.

"I know that teachers do feel under enormous pressure but there are many, many teachers who still consider it a wonderful profession and enjoy every minute of it."

See also:

01 Jul 02 | UK Education
04 Jul 02 | UK Politics
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