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The Schools Council recommended to me on 8th July that I should approve the establishment of a common system of examining at 16-plus. I am considering the recommendation but cannot at this stage give an indication of when I shall reach conclusions. As I said in my reply on 6th July to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold), the Schools Council recommendations are of very great importance and it will not be practicable or desirable to reach immediate decisions about them.
I am sure that we all welcome the Secretary of State's caution. However, will he look very critically and warily at this proposal in view of the considerable hostility it has aroused already? On this issue at least, will he take a firm stand for academic standards as the paramount consideration in reaching a decision?
I understand the hon. Member's point of view, but on the one hand to commend me to a course of caution and on the other to commit me to a proposition is not wholly consistent.
I have no particular affection for examinations. If a body puts proposals before me, I shall examine them. There is much to be said for some reform of the present system. I should, however, be allowed a little time to consider these proposals, because my predecessor in the Conservative Government, the present Leader of the Opposition, took 13 months to reply to a suggestion about the number of grades of A-levels.
Whatever conclusion my right hon. Friend reaches, does he agree that any examination at 16 is a very poor guide to the skills, attainments, aptitudes or abilities of an individual, let alone his prospects for the future? Does my right hon. Friend agree that employers should take more note of an employee's skills and aptitudes rather than rely specifically on this subjective form of testing?
I agree that one should not attach undue importance to examinations. However, from the point of view of motivation of the pupil and the need for sonic sort of assessment, there is unanimous agreement that there should be some kind of examination system. The question we must consider is how best it can be devised and administered.
I have received 70 letters about the Schools Council recommendations on a common system of examining at 16-plus. Of these, three are from industrial interests. In general, my replies have assured correspondents that their representations will be borne in mind. The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals has not made direct representations to me but has sent me a copy of a statement which it has made to the Schools Council.
Will the Secretary of State try to educate his Minister of State into the view that as far as university entrance is concerned it is one of the facts of life that selection cannot be eliminated and, therefore, there will be failures? It is only a question of how best one can measure selection and decide who are the failures.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although there is disagreement about the detailed application of any new system of administration of this examination, there is widespread agreement among all sections of the educational movement that a common system of examination is necessary because of the dreadful expense, overlap and waste of public money that is going on under the present system? Does he also agree—