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A-Level Passes

Volume 976: debated on Tuesday 18 December 1979

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14.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what was the rate of increase, or decrease, in the number of A-level passes per school-leaver between 1971 and 1979.

If all school leavers with four or more A-level passes are assumed to have four passes only, the average number of A-level passes per school-leaver in England and Wales would be 0·40 in 1970–71 and 0·39 in 1977–78. Information for 1978–79 is now being collected.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the statistics, for example in mathematics and English, in the six years from 1972, show a decline of 21 per cent., and that that decline has serious implications for the switch from selective to comprehensive schools and mixed ability teaching in the maintained sector?

The number of A-level mathematics passes during those seven years was constant at 4 per cent. for school leavers aged 17–18 years, but my hon. Friend's question highlights the fact that we have not seen the improvement in A-level passes that we expected over that period. That may be due to the shortage of specialist teachers in mathematics and science, the move to comprehensive schools, the fact that there is not the limitless pool of ability in the country that we once believed we had, or changing methods within schools.

Will the hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to reject the findings of his former "black paper" colleague, Mr. Baldwin, the self-appointed National Council of Educational Standards and the views of his hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), and acknowledge the fact that the statistics recently provided show the number of A-level passes as a proportion of all school leavers? Is it not widely known that at a time when there is a rise in the number of school leavers, those who left at 16 did not attempt, and had no intention of attempting to take, A-levels? Does the Minister agree that this whole exercise by Mr. Baldwin and his colleagues is an illustration of A. J. Cook's maxim that figures can lie and liars can figure?

I confess that I have not yet read Mr. Baldwin's figures. It was a treat that I was saving for the Christmas Recess, and I shall give my comments to the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) when I have done so. However, those figures have no bearing on the fact that we have not seen the improvement in the number of A-level passes that we expected over the past seven years.