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Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Whitaker, B.
Whitty, L.
Wilkins, B.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Young of Norwood Green, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.13 pm

[Amendments Nos. 96 and 97 not moved.]

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 98:

(a) University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, (b) Edexcel Ltd.”

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 98, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 102 and 103. These amendments would allow the maintained sector to follow alternative examination routes in order to drive up rigour and standards in schools. Amendment No. 98 would allow pupils in maintained schools to take the IGCSE in science and mathematics and ensure that the qualification is considered acceptable in lieu of a GCSE for the purposes of government league tables.

When we previously dealt with this issue in Committee, I was pleased that the Minister recognised that the IGCSE is an “effective programme of study”. The international GCSE has been offered since 1988 and is recognised by universities and employers worldwide. More than 4,000 schools across the world, including more than 200 UK schools, teach international GCSE, which is taken in more than 100 countries with 350,000 entries a year. This is tried and tested. Two exam boards, Cambridge and Edexcel, already offer the IGCSE. It is recognised by UCAS, which accepts the IGCSE in lieu of the GCSE.

Needless to say, Governments overseas have seen the light and approved the IGCSE at national and federal levels. The take-up of the exam in diverse overseas curricula is striking. The United States is ahead of us on this. The Florida state legislature lists the International GCSE as a “rigorous academic programme”. IGCSEs are recognised by the Department of Education of the Commonwealth of Virginia as

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equivalent to its own state standards. What is more striking is that this Government support the IGCSE—but only overseas. The government-funded British Council delivers the IGCSE to over 45,000 candidates a year from all around the world. Noble Lords will understand my surprise on reading the words of the Minister in another place, Jim Knight, who stated:

Clearly, the IGCSE has proven standards. It is good enough for British children overseas, but not for children in the maintained sector at home, who could benefit so much.

The Chancellor is committed to closing the gap between the maintained and the independent sector, yet as usual that means matching pound for pound—matching the quantity and not the quality of provision. That is nothing less than unacceptable. The Minister mentioned a report from the QCA on this subject in Committee. We have not read the report, but I suspect that the QCA will continue to dig in its heels. Yet what surprises me is that the Secretary of State has not seen the evidence of his own Government’s international practice and that of other Governments.

A news report from the Independent on 2 September showed that as many as half of all independent schools have now adopted the exam. Head teachers at independent schools say that the GCSE is no longer sufficient preparation for A-levels. We have debated the inadequacies of the new science curriculum. The maths curriculum has seen some improvement in the recent commitment to scrap maths coursework, and I hope that the Minister will confirm that policy today. The IGCSE applies that valuable concept to all subjects. Christopher Ray, High Master of Manchester Grammar School, has said:

It is sad that we can only quote today from the independent sector. The maintained sector is being denied the privilege of choosing its exams; it is legally prevented from making those choices. I expect that Members on the Benches to my right and the Benches opposite would agree with us that that must change.

Amendment No. 102 would change the current system so that it is not necessary to take an AS-level in order to complete an A-level course. It is based on the recognition that the artificial split between AS and A2 has had a detrimental effect on education at sixth-form level, which has become exacerbated by an increasing obsession with the modularisation of the qualification. I do not propose to abolish the AS-level; it is clear that there is a need for a one-year course for pupils who do not intend to take a subject further. I do not have any objection in principle to the idea that this course can be upgraded to an A-level at a later point. However, I fear that the AS-level has diluted what was a rigorous, linear course of study under the two-year A-level.

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Many pupils have found that the AS has forced them to cut back on extra-curricular activities. The summer term in the first year of sixth form, when sixth formers often take on extra responsibilities in the absence of those in the final year, has become disrupted by study leave and examinations. The artificial split of a two-year course of study into two one-year courses has resulted in students following up to 12 loosely connected courses and being assessed 12 different times. Schools should have the choice to offer a rigorous, linear course that allows for the development of intellectual maturity.

We have debated science and maths, but let us not forget the arts subjects. Attainment in English literature, history, geography and languages improves over time. Graham Able, the head of Dulwich College, says that A-levels are,

It should be extremely worrying that universities are already indicating that some of the qualifications I mentioned are superior to the A-level. If good schools adopt the most rigorous qualifications of the international baccalaureate, the international A-level and the Cambridge Pre-U, then the gap between those schools and poor schools will be exacerbated further.

Amendment No. 103 protects the status of the international baccalaureate. Although it is currently approved by the QCA for teaching in maintained schools, the amendment would give the qualification statutory protection. I feel that such protection would be useful: it would reinforce the respectability of the exam if Parliament were to approve it in this manner.

I would also like to expose the inconsistency of permitting the international baccalaureate diploma, yet not the international GCSE. I think that it is particularly inconsistent given that the international baccalaureate diploma is approved by the QCA for the pre-16 age group. The Minister needs to explain in which respects the international baccalaureate differs from the international GCSE. I appreciate that it is a level 3 rather than a level 2 qualification, but the fact remains that a school could offer the international baccalaureate to gifted and talented students at key stage 4, but could not offer others the IGCSE at this stage.

I look forward to the Minister’s response to these amendments, in particular to my AmendmentNo. 98—which I hope he can accept in the interests of consistent opportunities and standards for all children at all schools in this country. I beg to move.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I associate myself with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, regarding the IGCSE, the international baccalaureate and AS-levels. I touched on some of those points at Second Reading. I would like to draw the attention of the House to Amendment No. 99, standing in my name in this group, which also returns to an issue that I raised at Second Reading and concerns youngsters who may not be able to aspire to the levels of attainment that the noble Baroness has just outlined.

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I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to meet Mr Mike Bell, who saw the Minister’s officials, along with colleagues from the Education Policy Network. I readily accept that some tentative steps have been made in the Bill to move in the direction that I have argued for.

As at Second Reading, in this amendment I hope to put the spotlight on the 30 per cent of pupils who leave education at 16 with few or no useful qualifications—ordinary young people who have simply found education difficult. Later in their lives, you may meet them as loving parents, excellent mechanics, first-rate shop assistants, skilful lorry drivers and a host of other careers that are vital to the economic and social life of our nation. Lest too rosy a picture of this group should lull your Lordships into complacency, consider that some 80 per cent of the prison population are from this group and some become the disaffected youth that so many towns-people fear on their streets at night.

I would like to tell your Lordships about real young people whose names have been changed, but whose stories have been told to me by practising teachers: of Janie, who worked hard every lesson, often got the work right in class, but who always did badly in tests and exams, however hard she worked, and of Bethany, who would often complete the work the teacher had set, but most of her answers were wrong. Both have now left school and are trainees in hair and beauty salons. Or I can tell you of Jamie, who arrives in lessons so eager to get his hands on things that he often gets into trouble for taking the teachers’ materials; or of Joe, who is expected by his GCSE entitlement to work out the percentage efficiency of a light bulb. He has struggled with ratio and never grasped percentages despite hard work by himself and his teachers and the word “efficiency” means nothing to him. And Ben hated school so much that he would work only under threat of punishment, but is now successfully engaged on an engineering apprenticeship. Those are just a few voices from around 200,000 young people who, in one year group, had academic abilities lying between the 5th and 30th percentiles.

The aim of the amendment is to give all those pupils the chance to leave school with certificates showing what they can do. For many in this group, the current system tells them only what they cannot do. Grades E, F and G at GCSE are of no value as entry to courses, and employers consider them to be “fail” grades. Around 55 per cent of pupils achieve five A to C grades, but that means that 45 per cent do not.

As I have indicated, this Education and Inspections Bill goes some way towards addressing the issue, and I welcome the fact that the new specialist diplomas will be available at level 1, as well as at the GCSE equivalent, level 2. I also welcome the introduction of the new functional skills, which should enable teachers to focus on the basics of maths and English with pupils for whom algebra and Shakespeare may be inappropriate. However, these new courses are not yet available and, while there is no guarantee that they will meet the needs of non-academic pupils, I ask the Minister, in responding to the amendment, at least to flesh out

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some of the detail of what they will involve and give us some kind of timetable for their implementation. We need to remember that the same institutions—the Department for Education and Skills and the QCA—which are drawing up the new courses were also responsible for the previous curriculum, which sadly has humiliated many of these less able young people, turned them off education and, in some cases, turned them against society.

Our gifted civil servants never were in the bottom set at school. They have probably never been in regular personal contact with the people whose plight I am trying to highlight in the amendment. When the national curriculum was introduced in 1988, teachers found it so impractical and prescriptive that in 1993 the Government very sensibly commissioned my noble friend Lord Dearing—then Sir Ron Dearing—to make it more manageable. As he indicated in our earlier debate on the previous set of amendments, he slimmed it down considerably.

The curriculum proposals in the Bill are further attempts to patch and mend the national curriculum to meet the needs of real children found in real classrooms by real teachers, rather than the intellectual model of a pupil which seems to stalk the corridors of the Department for Education and Skills. Teachers tell me that you have to teach these youngsters regularly for some time before you come to terms with the fact that they are not simply misbehaving. They tell me that, for some students, however many times you teach some topics, however helpful the worksheet and however interesting the presentation, some pupils continually report, “I've no idea what you are talking about, sir”.

Classroom experience and research evidence shows that the range of abilities in the average classroom is far wider than is reflected in current GCSE courses. Surely it is time to admit these facts and offer all pupils courses that stretch their abilities and also give them the chance to succeed. After all, the word “education” is derived from Latin. Its meaning is clear: to draw out; to lead forth. For education to work, it must start from where pupils are today and lead them forward.

I suppose that if I could caricature the amendment in one phrase, it would be “Let them succeed”. The problem that we see today derives from the concept of “entitlement”. It is used in the national curriculum and we have heard much about it this afternoon. The Minister may try to persuade the House that my amendment undermines the entitlement of all pupils to a broad and balanced curriculum. If he does tell us that, he will be wrong on two counts. First, my amendment applies to key stage 4—to 14 year-olds. It does not reduce the breadth of the curriculum at key stage 3—the first three years at secondary school. Secondly, it does not allow pupils to opt out of core subjects. It simply gives them the right to follow, for example, a course in mathematics to which they are suited.

This so-called entitlement is a dangerous corruption of the use of the word in common parlance. To most of us, if we have an entitlement, it means that we can choose to have it or not. In education, however, entitlement

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means compulsion. All pupils must follow this or that course. Let us imagine that when you joined a gymnasium you were “entitled”—for which we should read “compelled”—to run 10 miles on the treadmill and lift 100 pound weights. For some, that would be physical education; for others—probably people like me—it would be a disaster. It has been the same in education for 15 years. Some aspects of this entitlement have driven some pupils to despair, disengagement and disaffection. Any sensible gymnasium assesses each member and gives them a training programme designed for their particular needs. Although that cannot be done to the same degree at school, my amendment would move the curriculum in that direction.

Whenever teachers talk about their work, the same themes repeat themselves: staff leaving through stress, poor classroom behaviour, disaffection with learning and dumbing down of academic standards. Employers complain of skill shortages and low standards of literacy and numeracy. At first these appear as separate issues, but a closer look reveals deep connections. They all result from treating pupils as though they were similar.

Taking an average form-group of 30 pupils just starting their GCSE courses in year 10, their key stage 3 results from earlier in the summer tell us that there are three pupils at level 3 or below, five at level 4, 11 at level 5—the average for this age group—eight at level 6 and three at level 7 or above. Those figures may not mean much to the lay observer, so translating them into notional academic ages reveals that the average form starting at year 10 contains three eight year-olds, five 11 year-olds, 11 14 year-olds—the age of most year 10s—but also eight 16 year-olds and three pupils with the same thinking skills as good university students. That is a remarkably high range. We would find it strange if we were to have 11 year-olds and 16 year-olds in the same class, but, in terms of academic age, that is the pattern at age 14 in every non-selective school in the country. The idea that we should be offering all pupils variations on the same course, as at present, is simply nonsense.

5.30 pm

Further evidence comes from Shayer and Adey's research at King’s College, London on cognitive acceleration. Many schools use CASE in science—cognitive acceleration through science education—or its equivalent, CAME, in maths. These programmes, which are proven to work, are based on an understanding which divides thinking into two broad groups: first, everyday concrete thinking, which is largely about facts and descriptions of the world; and, secondly, abstract formal thinking which requires a mental process.

The research shows that only about 30 per cent of the adult population develops the abstract thinking skills needed for academic courses. That key fact is too often overlooked when education policy is being made. Not only do we have an age range of at least eight years, but it is divided into two distinct groups: those who can access the abstract topics and those who, at this stage of their lives at least, cannot. Failure is bound to follow if policy makers ignore those facts. Many of the problems encountered by

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teachers can be explained by the way in which the national curriculum forces teachers to put perfectly intelligent but concrete thinkers through courses that require abstract thinking.

To conclude, education for some has become the basis for failure. While the Government have indicated that they will oppose my amendment, I hope that the House and the Government will at least give serious consideration to the principles that lie behind it. Give every child the right to follow courses which will show what he or she can do. Do not let us be persuaded by talk of entitlement, but listen to what practising teachers tell us about their daily experience with non-academic students. Do not be persuaded by promises of functional skills, specialist diplomas and foundation tier. Those have not yet been written and there is no guarantee that they will succeed in meeting that need. Spare a thought for the struggling pupil who feels humiliation on a daily basis at school and for the teachers who struggle to deal with their indifference.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I support Amendment No. 103 to encourage the use of the international baccalaureate. My interest in this comes, first, from the fact that my elder son insisted on doing the international baccalaureate and it has served him very well, and secondly, and more objectively, I was a member of the European Union Select Committee’s Sub-Committee F when we examined labour mobility. It was quite striking to note that one of the obstacles for UK people with children moving into jobs in Europe was the non-recognition of the leaving exam. The international baccalaureate is the leaving examination in 124 countries and in almost all European countries.

In particular I want to remind the House of the evidence of the CBI in this matter. It is on page 23 of the evidence attached to the report. The CBI points out that,

and that,

But they do not move because their children's secondary education might be undermined by having to do a different examination system. The CBI goes on to state that,

Increasingly, UK universities are happy to use the international baccalaureate as an entry qualification. I think Oxford and Cambridge like it better because it is more rigorous and broader. My noble friend will know that it is also flexible enough to allow different levels of mobility within it. Today's Education Guardian says that,

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It is not always the case that where Wales leads the UK follows, but perhaps this ought to be one of those occasions.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Alton. I draw attention to the fact that the argument that he used applies to boys in particular. I believe that the average figure for gaining five GCSEs is 55 per cent, but for boys the figure is much nearer to 45 per cent. I should also point out that I do not intend to move Amendment No. 101.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. 100, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Walmsley, I shall speak also to other amendments in the group. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, we support Amendment No. 103. It has long been our policy on these Benches that we should broaden out the offering to pupils aged 16, 17 and 18 and the international baccalaureate provides that.

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