Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): I congratulate the right hon. Lady, and welcome her to her post.

    Is the right hon. Lady aware of the great concern expressed on the doorsteps by pupils, parents and teachers about the way in which AS-levels were introduced, and about their long-term consequences? Is she satisfied that it was right to introduce them without any parliamentary debate, and will she instigate an inquiry into the mishandling of the process and the long-term consequences and bring the results to the House?

    Estelle Morris: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for those comments and for his congratulations. He is right: there is concern about AS-level examinations at the end of the first year six. That is why, well within a week of taking up the post, I asked the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to conduct an inquiry. My instinct is that we should not go back from supporting a broader curriculum for sixth form students. Indeed, that was the common starting point of us all. It is all right having parliamentary debate, but no one in this House or outside wanted us to keep the narrow range of A-level specialisms. Indeed, compared with our competitor nations, we fall behind by making children specialise too early.

    Therefore, I want to keep that breadth, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman is right. My instinct is this. Children are doing two years‘ study in first year six and second year six. They are interrupted too much by having to prepare for exams at the end of the first year six. It disrupts that continuity and gets in the way of their learning.

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