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General Certificate Of Secondary Education

Volume 130: debated on Monday 21 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the implementation of the GCSE examination in Wales.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware from an interim report published on 8 March that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools found that the GCSE is being successfully introduced. It is leading to better teaching and has succeeded in raising the motivation of pupils.

The Minister will be aware that many leading educationists in Wales are worried about the plight of 16-year-old students. They say that many are under a great deal of stress and that they are overworked. If so, what plans does the Minister have to remedy the problem?

I, too, have read the article from which the hon. Gentleman appears to be quoting, but in Wales there are others who welcome this development, and the HMI report is very favourable. We have spent more money on the introduction of this examination than on any previous examination.

Does the Minister accept that we endorse what he has said about the performance of the examination? Will he ensure that the proposals in the Education Reform Bill, which will be the subject of scrutiny this week, will not undermine the positive gains made in the assessment used for GCSE, and that the testing which the Secretary of State for Education and Science has in mind will not revert to more traditional roles but will retain the gains made by the GCSE?

We very much hope that the Education Reform Bill will enhance the performance of pupils. After all, the GCSE is intended to stretch children's ability. As for assessment, I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that in the coming year we shall spend about £855,000 in Wales on in-service assessment training for teachers.

Will the Minister join me in praising the efforts of teachers who have been working in extremely difficult conditions successfully to introduce the GCSE in Wales? Will he assure me that his Department will monitor the examination carefully, because early evidence suggests that pupils of average and below-average ability are having more than a little difficulty with the examination and that its purpose may be somewhat undermined?

As the inspectorate acknowledged, there are some teething troubles, but that is due simply to the introduction of the new examination. On the whole, it is progressing favourably. I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the teachers, who have done extremely well in introducing the examination, amd I am happy to say that in the current year we have spent about £859,000 on training teachers in respect of the GCSE.