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GCSE/A-level Standards

Volume 630: debated on Monday 6 November 2017

We are reforming GCSEs and A-levels to make them more knowledge based and academically rigorous, to match the best education systems in the world and to keep pace with the demands of universities and employers. The reforms are intended to ensure that pupils, employers, colleges and universities can have confidence in the qualifications.

A teacher came to my surgery on Saturday to say that while she was determined to provide the best teaching of the new history course, which has a tougher exam, she was finding it hard to do that when asked by the school to cover for a colleague on maternity leave whom the school did not feel that it could replace. Is there any help that can be given to schools as they face the twin challenges of budget pressures and the introduction of a completely new history course?

I am pleased to tell my right hon. Friend that help is available. While core school funding has been and is being protected in real terms, we understand that schools are facing cost pressures due to higher employers’ national insurance contributions and higher contributions to teachers’ pensions. We will continue to work to deliver the initiative set out in the schools buying strategy to help schools get the best value for their non-staff expenditure, such as through regional purchasing hubs, and we will support schools in managing their staff and workloads by implementing flexible working and by deploying support staff effectively.

There is no single model for rigorous assessment. I recently held a series of meetings with year 12 and year 13 students in schools across my constituency, and one issue of concern to them all was the move away from coursework to closed exams. They believe that such exams provide an incomplete assessment of their abilities, discriminate against those who are unwell on the day of an exam, and are a contributory factor in the growth of mental health problems. Will the Minister agree to look at those concerns?

We looked carefully at that issue. We found that controlled assessments were consuming vast amounts of teaching time and a culture of resits was taking up more teaching time. Ofqual said that the controlled assessment system was not the most reliable way of assessing pupils.