General Certificate of Education (Subjects)

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 31st July 1958.

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Photo of Sir Isaac Pitman Sir Isaac Pitman , Bath 12:00 am, 31st July 1958

asked the Minister of Education to what extent the recent circular from his Secondary Schools Examination Council, directing the universities and other bodies examining for the General Certificate of Education to discontinue examinations in certain subjects now widely taught in secondary schools and examined by them, represents a change from his policy of certification of subjects appropriate to the stage of education at all secondary schools; to what extent it represents a return to the policy of certification of subjects appropriate only to a small percentage of students normally at grammar schools seeking admission to a university; and to what extent it affects schools teaching, and girls studying, secretarial subjects.

Photo of Sir Edward Boyle Sir Edward Boyle , Birmingham Handsworth

There is no change of basic policy. This decision follows from policies already long agreed by the Council as regards the criteria for admitting subjects for the General Certificate examination. I cannot agree that it is a retrograde decision as suggested by the hon. Member. While it will inevitably affect schools teaching and pupils studying secretarial subjects, there is nothing to prevent the particular subjects the hon. Member has in mind being examined under other auspices, and they will continue to be taught in the schools as before.

Photo of Sir Isaac Pitman Sir Isaac Pitman , Bath

If such subjects as plumbing, needlework and woodwork which are taught in secondary modern schools are to be the subject of examination in the future, why is there this discrimination? Does it not seem to support the suggestion by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Owen) that there is a lack of appreciation amongst the S.S.E.C. members of the problems of secondary modern schools, and particularly in relation to the subjects taught?

Photo of Sir Edward Boyle Sir Edward Boyle , Birmingham Handsworth

I know that the Council gave this matter very careful thought before coming to a decision. My right hon. Friend feels bound to accept the Council's advice on this very difficult question.

Photo of Sir Isaac Pitman Sir Isaac Pitman , Bath

asked the Minister of Education to what extent the recent circular from the Secretary of his Secondary Schools Examination Council affects the academic freedom of each university to conduct examinations in view of the fact that the Council is declining in future to issue the General Certificate of Education to successful candidates in certain subjects hitherto so examined by them and widely taught in secondary schools.

Photo of Sir Edward Boyle Sir Edward Boyle , Birmingham Handsworth

The recent letter in no way affects the freedom of the examining bodies or the universities to conduct examinations in any subjects they wish. But the award of certificates within the General Certificate of Education is my right hon. Friend's responsibility and he must decide, on the best advice available, the suitability of subjects for certification.

Photo of Sir Isaac Pitman Sir Isaac Pitman , Bath

Is it not rather unfortunate that in their letter dated 19th April the emphasis is on the shortness of time for preparing fresh syllabuses excluding these subjects, and that it indicates that there is a direction to universities on the subjects in which they should examine?

Photo of Sir Edward Boyle Sir Edward Boyle , Birmingham Handsworth

Let me make it clear that universities and examining bodies are free to organise examinations on their own initiative outside the scope of the General Certificate of Education, and they frequently do so. When the matter was last discussed by the Secondary Schools Examination Council only one member of the Council dissented from the decision which was reached.