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EDITIONS
Thursday, 15 August, 2002, 09:29 GMT 10:29 UK
A-levels not easier insists minister
A-level students
Ministers say students are 'working harder than ever'
A-level exams are not getting easier despite this year's record pass rate of more than 94%, the government is insisting.


It is desperately serious that fewer pupils are taking English, maths and some science subjects

Damian Green
Tory spokesman
Some officials are saying the pass rate could be 100% within two or three years.

Education Minister Stephen Twigg argued the improvements were down to hard work and good teaching.

But he admitted there was a "major" problem with a decline in the number of students taking maths A-level.

'Desperately serious'

Conservative shadow education secretary Damian Green blamed that decline, and falls in other traditional subjects, on Labour's decision to introduce AS-levels in the first year of study.

Mr Green said: "I of course congratulate all hard-working pupils on their well-deserved grades."

Stephen Twigg
Mr Twigg is worried about Maths
But he added: "It is desperately serious that fewer pupils are taking English, maths and some science subjects.

"The government's fiddling with A-levels has driven pupils away from the subjects that form the basis of a rounded education."

Mr Green said the Tories would scrap AS-levels and hold an independent audit of exam quality.

Students now choose a broader range of subjects in their first year before specialising in two or three actual A-levels.

'Working harder'

Education Minister Stephen Twigg defended the new system on BBC Radio 4's Today programme - and hit back at critics who said exams were getting easier.

Exams should not "set people up to fail", he said, and the differences between grades at A-level were still big enough to provide a useful comparison between students.

The new AS-levels meant "students are working harder and the standards of teaching are going up and that's why we have seen this improvement in results," said Mr Twigg.

He admitted maths was a "major worry", which was why Education Secretary Estelle Morris had set up a public inquiry into the subject.

Maths worries

More students have achieved an A grade in maths this year, although the overall number taking the subject has fallen.


As it stands, children are being taught to pass exams

David Rendell, Liberal Democrats
Mr Twigg denied standards were slipping in the subject, even though the exam had been made easier after complaints that last year's paper had been too difficult.

"There is no question about softening up, but there is a real issue about maths and it isn't just at A-level.

"This goes right back to the age of 14 and this is why we are having the inquiry," added Mr Twigg.

The new system meant the number of people entering A levels was down and that was why pass rates had gone up, he said.

'Over-testing'

David Rendel, Liberal Democrat higher education spokesman, called for a "complete review" of the A-level system to end the debate about falling standards.

"As it stands, children are being taught to pass exams.

"This is no wonder when the government has insisted on an over-centralised, over-tested education system."

Mr Rendel added: "Our schools are seeing a worrying downward trend in the numbers of students taking maths and physics A-Levels, and it is no coincidence that these are subjects which require higher levels of teaching.

"Teacher shortages in these essential subjects mean that fewer schools are able to offer them to A-Level, or teach them in the necessary small classes.

"All the students receiving results today must be congratulated on their achievements.

"It is just a shame that they face uncertainty about university prospects as the government continues to drag its feet over the long promised review of student support."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Westhead
"These teenagers are the guinea pig generation"
Stephen Twigg MP, Education Minister
"This shows that investment in education is paying off"

GCSES

Background

Success stories

TALKING POINTS

A-LEVELS

Row over standards

Real lives

TOMLINSON INQUIRY
See also:

15 Aug 02 | UK Education
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