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General Certificate Examination

Volume 499: debated on Thursday 24 April 1952

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asked the Minister of Education whether she has yet received a report from the Secondary School Examinations Council on the new examination system; and whether she will make a statement on the age limit for the general certificate of education.

Yes, Sir. I have decided that, with effect from next year, a pupil shall not be debarred from taking the examination for the general certificate of education before the age of 16 if the head of his school is satisfied that it is educationally right for him to do so and that he is fully up to the required standard. Normally the examination will not be taken before the age of 16.

I have always felt that age alone should not debar a pupil from taking this examination. On taking office I deferred any decision to make a change, because I knew that the Secondary School Examinations Council had of their own initiative undertaken to review the existing arrangements in the light of experience gained since the new system was introduced.

I have now received their Report, which I am glad to say is unanimous. Their main recommendation is that, while the existing age limit should be retained, heads of schools should have full discretion to enter pupils at an earlier age under certain specified conditions. This, and their proposal that a distinction mark should be available for candidates at the advanced level, seem to me eminently sensible, and I am, therefore, informing the Council that I shall give effect to both their recommendations. I shall publish their Report in the next few days.

Is the Minister aware that this further step to freedom for the able will be greeted with great satisfaction? Can she say whether the same or similar facilities will be extended to the boys and girls in secondary modern schools?

Yes. This will, of course, affect girls or boys in any schools, because the head of the school will be able to say that he considers that a particular pupil is able to take the examination at an earlier age than 16 and that it will be educationally good for him to do so. It affects all the schools equally.

The Minister mentioned specified conditions. Will she elaborate on that?