As we approach the end of another school year, I would like to wish all Hounslow secondary school pupils taking exams over the next couple of months the very best of luck.
Last year Hounslow schools performed very well at A Level, with all schools in Feltham and Heston either bettering 2011 results or maintaining very high standards. We all want this local academic success to continue. We all want the very best education for our young people, and the highest levels of participation and attainment possible for each child.
However, like many secondary school headteachers in Hounslow, I am greatly concerned that current Government proposals to reform A Levels will have the opposite effect, with participation and attainment going backwards.
In January the Government announced that they intend to change the way that A Levels are taught, with pupils only taking exams at the end of a two year course. The AS Level, introduced in 2000 as a way of broadening the curriculum, will change as a qualification and no longer count towards a full A Level.
Following a letter I received signed by all secondary headteachers in Hounslow voicing strong opposition to these changes, I raised a debate in Parliament calling on the Government to listen to local teachers and reverse the damaging proposals. Headteachers from Feltham Community College, Lampton School, St Marks Catholic School, Rivers Academy, Heston Community College, Cranford Community College, and others throughout Hounslow said to me:
We are baffled and concerned by the proposal to shift the AS level to a standalone qualification. In its present format, the one year course leading to a more challenging A Level course enables schools to raise standards. A Level students are more seriously motivated in year 12 when they know that they are going to be externally examined at the end of the year. In our view we are going to lose that motivation from students if we have to return to internal exams at the end of year 12.
Hounslow headteachers are not alone in their opposition. The changes have also been opposed by the 24 Russell Group universities and the Association of School and College Leaders, an organisation that represents more than 80% of school heads in public and private schools, and which oversees an estimated 90% of A Level entries. Cambridge University have said that they are worried if AS Levels disappear we may lose many of the gains in terms of fair admissions and widening participation that we have made in the last decade.
AS Levels offer a stepping-stone approach to education with choice, diversity and flexibility which has kept a love of learning in Hounslow. For those local young people who may never have expected to do A Levels or go to university, the AS Level has opened a door. As well as this, AS Levels often give confidence to talented pupils from poorer backgrounds who get good results at the end of Year 12 to apply to a more highly selective university, helping to widen participation. These are all strong arguments for social mobility in keeping the current system.
We know that we must reform our education system, but it must be the right reform. Labour supports reforms to 14-19 education that would deliver a curriculum and qualification system that equipped young people with the skills and knowledge to play their part in society and the economy, but these proposals will not achieve that. Labour has commissioned a review of 14-19 education to focus on raising aspirations for those who want to go to university and those who do not, and has plans to introduce a gold-standard technical baccalaureate at age 18. Government plans on the other hand, as they stand, will take our education system backwards, not forwards. I am pleased that during my debate Labours Shadow Schools Minister, Kevin Brennan MP, made a commitment that Labour would re-couple AS Levels and A Levels, which I welcomed.
I would like to thank once again all of the Hounslow headteachers who wrote to me with their concerns. I hope that the Government has the courage and wisdom to listen to them, and to the experts who oppose the proposed reforms, and change direction. I will continue to pay close attention to this very important issue for our local young people, and if anybody would like to share their thoughts on my debate, please do get in touch.