A-S examinations are making a significant and worthwhile contribution to broadening post-16 studies. The Government have been encouraging schools, colleges and students to use them as they think best. I look to higher education and employers to take full account of the A-S achievements of young people.
Is my hon. Friend aware that despite the best efforts of Staffordshire county council, which has decided to knife all travel for students in rural areas to sixth-form colleges and high schools in my constituency, twice as many young people are studying at higher education institutions as in 1979? Does my hon. Friend agree that although A-levels may be the gold standard, they force students to specialise far too early? Would it not be better if universities were encouraged to accept A-S levels, which have a much broader educational approach, as the first means of entry?
From what my hon. Friend says, it is clear that Staffordshire county council is not going to win a gold standard for anything in education. On the substantial part of my hon. Friend's question about A-S levels, we believe that it is unwise to challenge a standard that is in place by seeking to diminish it. We seek to offer alternative approaches, which may or may not be taken up, as a matter of choice. Already more than 50,000 A-S levels are taken each year, including, last year, my own daughter's. Alongside that, as an alternative, we have at last tackled the problem of vocational qualifications by providing clear, comprehensive and comprehensible alternatives through the national vocational qualifications and general national vocational qualifications. Pupils and future employers can decide on the most appropriate route to take.