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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 August 2006, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Questions over future of A-levels
A-level students
Will some students be celebrating A* grades in future?
The latest increase in the A-level pass rate - the 24th in a row - has been largely well received, but with some reservations about the exam's future.

Schools Minister Jim Knight said it was a "day of celebration for students that have done well".

Shadow education secretary David Willetts called results "excellent".

But Lib Dem education spokesman Sarah Teather said the fact 24.1% of entries had received an A grade meant A-levels were "too narrow in scope".

'Same abroad'

Mr Knight said: "We no longer have the quota system of 20 years ago, which imposed a false cap on attainment and condemned 30% of pupils to failure each year no matter what their achievements.

"Today, hard work merits success and high quality teaching is enabling every young person to grasp the opportunities available to them.

"As more do so we should welcome that and take the same pride in the achievements of our young people as they do in every other country where similar rises have occurred in the past 20 years."

Ms Teather said: "The annual carping of backward-looking commentators who always want to claim standards were better 'back in their day' is unproductive and frankly boring.

"But progress isn't simply about improving upon past results. Education must be relevant to the world in which these young people will be living in the decades to come.

"A-levels are simply too narrow in scope: they don't stretch the brightest pupils and they don't permit a mix of academic learning with skills training."

She said ministers had shown "political cowardice" in 2005 by turning down proposals to create a single diploma for 14 to 19-year-olds, including vocational and academic elements.

Students are undoubtedly as a bright and hardworking as ever
Richard Lambert, CBI

Mr Willetts said there was a "good case" for universities - unable to decide between A-grade students - being given full numerical breakdowns of marks.

He also suggested that introducing an A* grade - as used in GCSEs - might help.

Mr Willetts added: "These are excellent results and we congratulate students for what they have achieved.

He said: "We need to break out of the stale debate about whether standards have declined. Students are undoubtedly as a bright and hardworking as ever.

"What we owe them is a serious debate about how our exam system can best meet their needs and the needs of the nation."

Business

The Confederation of British Industry raised concern that the number of students taking A-level physics had fallen.

Director-general Richard Lambert said: "We must not let the annual debate about grade inflation distract us from the crucial issue that too few young people are opting to study the subjects which business needs.

"The long-term decline in numbers taking physics and chemistry at A-level has serious ramifications, both for universities and for business.

"Britain has a distinguished history of achievement in physics and chemistry and its science base is second to none - but we need to work hard to maintain this position."

Chris Keates, general secretary of NASUWT teachers' union, said: "Once again pupils and teachers have come up trumps and should be congratulated for their hard work in securing these excellent achievements.

"Today it is only right to celebrate and challenge those who might seek to undermine this success."

Carole Whitty, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "We should celebrate the enormous progress our country has made and not be concerned by the fact that we need to keep our system constantly under review to ensure that it is fit for purpose."


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A-level students receive their results



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