A-level reforms will exacerbate region's skills gap say North East MPs

Plans to axe AS-levels will only exacerbate the region’s growing skills gap say a group of North East MPs

Owen Humphreys/PA Wire Girls from Newcastle High School in Jesmond, Newcastle, celebrate their A-level results
Girls from Newcastle High School in Jesmond, Newcastle, celebrate their A-level results

Government plans to axe AS-levels will only exacerbate the region’s growing skills gap, according to a group of North East MPs.

Labour’s Pat Glass, Sharon Hodgson and Catherine McKinnell have joined the nationwide debate that scrapping AS-levels would be the wrong thing for students, as set out in former Education Secretary Michael Gove’s proposed A-level reforms.

The shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, said that Labour would put on hold all A-level reforms due to be introduced next year and scrap the central plan to abolish AS-levels.

Gove’s reforms were designed to toughen up the A-levels, moving away from coursework towards end-of-course examinations.

But the move has been deeply unpopular with Labour ministers, teachers and pupils, who say that scrapping AS-levels would dissuade pupils from picking the tougher-grading STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and maths - at A-level.

Ms Glass, who is one of only five Labour MPs on the Government’s Education Select Committee, said AS-levels encouraged “confidence” among pupils hoping to take their chosen subject further.

MP Pat Glass
MP Pat Glass

“If AS-levels are abolished we will likely see a fall-back in the number of students opting to study the STEM subjects after GCSE,” she said.

“Having spoken to sixth formers across the North East, I know how valuable they find AS-levels in helping to shape their options and spur them on.

“AS-levels were introduced to bridge the often daunting gap between GCSE and A-levels and they have proved popular and successful among pupils and teachers alike.

“Our region will particularly feel the impact of this as we are facing a growing skills gap in science, technology and engineering. These much-needed careers require an A-level in one or more of the STEM subjects, so we cannot afford to dissuade pupils further.”

Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, reaffirmed her party’s intention to reverse Michael Gove’s reforms.

She said: “AS-level results are really useful for universities judging the potential of prospective students, and getting results after one year can motivate pupils to work harder the following year and raise their aspirations for what they want to move onto afterwards.

“I know that lots of local teachers and education leaders were opposed to this change, and I’m sure they’ll be pleased to hear that it will be reversed as soon as possible if Labour win the election next year.”

Ms McKinnell, MP for Newcastle North, said the Government’s plans to axe A-levels will cut off options to young people across the North East.

Catherine McKinnell MP
Catherine McKinnell MP

“We should be providing our young people with as many opportunities as possible at this crucial point in their education,” she said.

“Scrapping AS-levels is wrong and I fear will only reduce social mobility even further as there are very real concerns that it will make it much harder for students from less-privileged backgrounds to get into university.

“Why should future pupils not have the same opportunities available to them as those receiving their exam results this week?”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are reforming A levels to better prepare young people for life in modern Britain. By making them more rigorous we are ensuring that all students, regardless of their background or school, can apply to university with valued qualifications that provide the best preparation for university.

“Our A level reforms are based on a range of careful analysis and research and feedback from universities.

“By returning A levels to single exams we will ensure students gain a deeper subject understanding and are equipped with the skills and knowledge required for degree level study — something which universities have complained is not currently happening.

“We’ve also removed incentives to push disadvantaged students onto weaker qualifications.

“We have not abolished AS levels. Students can still take them to add additional breadth to their study and there is nothing to stop a student starting an AS level in some subjects before deciding to take an A level.

“We are confident that our reforms can be introduced within the planned timeframe meaning students can benefit from the new reformed qualifications as quickly as possible.”

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer