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GCE A-Level: Standards

Volume 464: debated on Tuesday 9 October 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families what assessment he has made of whether absolute A-level standards have changed over the last 20 years, pursuant to the comments of the Chair of the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education; and if he will make a statement. (154786)

A-levels, like other qualifications, are tightly regulated and standards monitored by the independent Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA). The Committee on Examination Standards chaired by the Director for Education at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) concluded in 2004 that no examination system at the school or other level is so tightly or carefully managed.

Claims that A-levels have got easier have been investigated and refuted on numerous occasions since the 1990s, first by Ofsted and then by QCA. It is not possible to make a simple comparison between exam papers from one or two decades ago with papers today: pupils learn different things today because the world is a different place, with employers demanding different skills. The improvements we have seen in success rates at A level are a result of record investment, 30,000 extra teachers, double the number of support staff and billions invested in rebuilding crumbling schools. The further improvements planned for A-level as part of our 14-19 reforms, to be introduced in 2008, will provide further stretch and challenge for the most able pupils and ensure A-levels remain robust qualifications that are respected internationally. Success at A-level today is no less demanding than it was in the past.