A Levels

I read that the Prime Minister is considering reforming A levels. It is not something I have ever urged and I would be interested in views from readers.

The case seems to revolve around the idea that everyone should do maths beyond GCSE level, and maybe continue with English.  To accommodate this presumably the  depth and range of other subjects at A levels would be reduced to allow more time for extra maths and English.

If someone wanted to retain the current range and depth of maths and English as A level subjects perhaps they could be retained as they would not need to study the general English and  maths options for all other students. Or maybe the aim is to get all students taking more subjects in the sixth form so those wanting to specialise in maths and or English would still do the general courses and offer more other subjects.

The impact of these reforms would be people would have more range of knowledge but less depth of knowledge at the end of school, with a bigger gap to the degree level on arriving at university. All should have better skills in maths and English.

I will comment tomorrow on my own experiences at school.


  1. Mark B
    September 25, 2023

    Good morning.

    Sir John

    You need to remind your leader that a fundamental cornerstone of Conservatism is CHOICE !!!

    Make the option to do more mathematics or any other relevant subject available. Let people whose lives it affects make the decision for themselves. STOP this top down, “I know best” attitude, it is Stalinist !!

    But then again, taking into consideration the manner by which he came to reside in Number 10 (a coup), being a Stalinist is probably right up the little usurpers street.

    1. Lifelogic
      September 25, 2023

      Indeed freedom and choice is what real Conservative should stand for. If people have not learned their maths and English by the age of sixteen and do not wish to continue with it there is little point in forcing them to do so. Then it seems he has a plan to ban younger people for buying tobacco – the police cannot even stop them buying hard drugs or shoplifting.

      Anyway does Rishi not have enough on his plate? He is failing on at least 4 of his five promises – debt, growth, NHS waiting lists, the open door illegal immigration. The other one he might hit (to just halve inflation) was inflation caused by him and the BoE’s QE anyway.

      Being a bit dyslexic and with rather slow smudged left handed hand writing (at the time no assistance or extra time was given) I struggled slightly with my French and double English O levels but still has to get above grade C for Cambridge Maths entry. It was quite a relief to drop them all at 16 and concentrate on just my Maths, F Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Gen Studies.

      1. Lifelogic
        September 25, 2023

        “STOP this top down, “I know best” attitude, it is Stalinist !!”

        It certainly is and as we know they (almost) invariably get everything totally wrong – as we see with Net Zero, the counter productive lockdowns, the net harm vaccines even for young people and even those who had Covid already, housing, open door illegal migration, net zero, the NHS monopoly structure, education, energy policy, the wars on motorists, landlords, small businesses…

        1. MFD
          September 25, 2023

          Considering the three above comments from LL and Mark B cover all that needs said, I mark him 1.5 out of 6 and suggest he resigns. The party members could see he would be a failure so they put him out in the first stage of selection. They were right!

          However our education system cannot even teach our boys and girls the proper facts of life so that should go back to teaching the three R’s and leave them to find out male and female naturally like we old fags did! The extent they learn is down to ability. I have got on ok for eighty years counting on my fingers.

        2. Hope
          September 25, 2023

          Perhaps if they taught maths and English properly at key stage two it would not be an issue at 16 at all.

          The other problem is that so many teachers are not intelligent enough to be teachers! Hence the problem.

          Bring back grammar schools best way to achieve social mobility through merit!

          1. Mark
            September 25, 2023

            Early years tuition is essential. Those who have difficulty with conceptual teaching can mostly learn the basic necessities by rote: this applies to both language and foundation maths. Leaving them floundering means they never have a foundation on which they could build. Ateempting to make good by trying to teach at a level that assumes foundation competence is futile.

            For those failed by the education system because it did not give that foundation the best offer is remedial teaching, to be offered when the person is receptive to it. That may not be in school – it might be part of apprenticeship or evening classes. If a teen has been inattentive in earlier years in school, they are unlikely to be attentive in the sixth form years. The likelihood is that their home life is also disrupted. The forces used to be one way of providing a stable life regime that allows such people to refocus and learn. Perhaps no longer.

          2. Neil
            September 25, 2023

            ‘Revive grammars’ just seems to me a standard knee-jerk response.

            In my view highly streamed comprehensives – if possible – would be better and fairer than unstreamed grammars such as the one I went to. I might then have got to Oxbridge, rather than the redbrick I ended up at (but I did study at Cambridge after that).

            Other than that, I agree with many of the excellent comments already here.

      2. John Hatfield
        September 25, 2023

        Indeed. Mathematics is a talent which not everyone possesses but those who are naturally good at it will want to progress without pressure being applied.

        1. Mark B
          September 25, 2023

          Correct !

          I am not a Concert Pianist because I have no musical ability – simple as that. But should I be forced to take piano lessons because someone who does not, and never will, know me says so ?

          1. Peter D Gardner
            September 26, 2023

            As an amateur pianist and a broadcaster in the music profession until recently may I say no child should ever be forced to play the piano or any other instrument.

    2. JoolsB
      September 25, 2023

      +1. Well said Mark.

      1. Mark B
        September 25, 2023


        Glad to see you are still posting.

    3. Ian B
      September 25, 2023

      @Mark B +1 – Also it is the doctrine of the Socialist WEF which our current crop of disciples have signed up to enforce on Society

      1. Mark B
        September 25, 2023

        Cheers mate.

  2. David Peddy
    September 25, 2023

    I agree with your comments about diluting knowledge in A level courses prior to University
    As someone who is highly numerate but a dunderhead at maths ( I obtained O level) ,who just about mastered simultaneous and quadratic equations, I think that this is a bad idea. Persisting with a subject that you do not understand is demotivating . I also question its usefulness? I have used geometry ONCE in my working life and algebra never
    Given the need for a fundamental change of direction with our economic policies and the develpment of a coherent energy policy, which is at present totally lacking. and at a time when we cannot appaerently find the time to reform the tax system or get rid of EU regulation , I would suggest that there are more important and urgent issues our government should be addressing

    1. Nigl
      September 25, 2023

      Last paragraph, absolutely correct. A weak PM who thinks uttering a few words but little action will make his problems disappear.

      Free speech being trashed. Low level crime ignored. Benefits of Brexit, ignored and not sold so will be reversed, Civil Service seemingly beyond improving and recruitment out of control, high taxes etc.

      It’s called fiddling while Rome burns

      1. Ian+wragg
        September 25, 2023

        Another institution destroyed by the non Conservative pm.
        Increasing the smoking age year on year until it becomes illegal
        Next comes the drinkers. The motorist is well under way to be priced off the roads. Just who are these clowns working for.
        Get off our backs.

      2. Peter D Gardner
        September 26, 2023

        Nigl, Sunak’s aim is not to solve the nation’s problems nor to pursue its interests but merely to remain in office by winning the next general election. The trick is to generate enough favourable headlines to fool enough people long enough to get their vote. That’s it and no more.

    2. PeteB
      September 25, 2023

      David, agree this topic doesn’t feel like the key issue for the country right now. More smoke and fog to distract from bigger problems.

      That said, I’d suggest leaving A levels well alone but making sure the only ones to sit them have strong GCSEs. Those with lower GCSE grades can do T levels and B-Tecs to prepare them for vocational work based apprenticeships. Double win of reducing the number of pointless degrees and making the youth population more productive (and not saddled with student debt) at a younger age.

      1. Nan+T
        September 25, 2023

        As a retired Maths teacher I completely agree.
        Maths as a pure subject is of little use in general life, but it is essential to be both numerate and literate. If a 14 year old is patently not going to be capable of achieving a C/4 grade at GCSE at 16, it would be better that they do Functional Skills in numeracy and literacy rather than waste 2 years doing algebra, trigonometry or poetry etc for GCSEs. I am sure they would be far more motivated as they could see a real purpose for a future job.

        1. Peter D Gardner
          September 26, 2023

          My wife is a maths graduate but she has trouble checking the restaurant bill. We laugh about it but it illustrates that there something less useful but nevertheless satisfying about pure maths. Actually I think she plays it up a bit. On the other hand the Covid debate generated a great many people who think they know a lot but don’t. One article in a right wing anti-lockdown magazine I read purported to show the futility of non-pharmaceutical interventions. It was written by a maths graduate but he hadn’t a clue how to apply Bayes theorem.

    3. Sea_Warrior
      September 25, 2023

      Perhaps the pressing need is to send the Cabinet to night-school, to study maths and physics?

      1. MFD
        September 25, 2023

        Good idea Sir, I never thought of that!
        Some are quite THICK!

    4. Peter Wood
      September 25, 2023

      Exactly, this is about diversion and dilution; Sunak trying to obfuscate the general, and correct, view that his administration is incompetent and needs to be removed. We MAY think that Labour are a bunch of wastrels, but we KNOW the current PCP is a disaster for this country, and so we’ll take the risk of the ‘maybe’ .

    5. Enigma
      September 25, 2023

      I agree with David Peddy and with Clough. I too was a dunderhead at maths and gave it up asap but I got full marks for arithmetic! I went on to have a successful self-employed career preparing management accounts for small businesses. My two sons were also hopeless at maths and received no help from me. They also gave it up asap but it hasn’t hindered them from having successful careers.

  3. Clough
    September 25, 2023

    I would have thought the Prime Minister of this country has enough to be concerned about already: his five pledges which are looking difficult to fulfil, and now his belated realisation that he has to change his approach to the Net Zero targets, or lose the election. We don’t need an ‘ideas man’ as premier, we need a leader who can get to grips with the urgent problems the country faces, not least building homes for the half a million people or so that Sunak is happy to see come here every year.

  4. Everhopeful
    September 25, 2023

    Well Sunak would have cut my school career extremely short! Maybe that would have been a good thing?
    I think he also wants a kind of A level matriculation?
    If A levels are still required for University entry then that would really cut down the numbers going.
    Does the PM have plans for industrialisation and bank expansion? Jobs at 16?

  5. Everhopeful
    September 25, 2023

    Why on earth is he dabbling in cat-chipping, a globalist-style smoking ban and now education?
    Surely at this point in this govt.’s unfortunate career he should be going for much more resounding policies?
    Or is it that he caves to every mean-minded little pressure group and ignores bolder projects?
    Like …stopping the boats!

    1. Everhopeful
      September 25, 2023

      Oh…I just realised!
      They are all Agenda 21/30 driven policies.
      Train kids for “sustainable” engineering careers, get rid of smoking altogether for ever ( either for more control or in order to introduce a different substance) and get rid of pets in little unnoticed stages.

  6. Clough
    September 25, 2023

    Why not start by teaching arithmetic and English properly at primary school, rather than spending class time on sex education before small children are ready to understand relationships?

    1. graham1946
      September 25, 2023

      Agree, but that would require real educationists rather than the woke propaganda merchants that seem to be currently infesting our schools with all sorts of perversions. The universities seem to be churning out these dunderheads, and where do they get these crazy ideas from in the first place? Funny that Rishi is so keen on maths, when his own arithmetic seems so dodgy, having got us to where we are.

      1. Mickey Taking
        September 25, 2023

        I think he mastered what a billion is!

    2. Atlas
      September 25, 2023

      Indeed so. The curriculum is been overburdened with woke matters that are best left for home discussion. Our Schools should not be social-welfare/social-engineering organizations.

  7. Narrow Shoulders
    September 25, 2023

    The only changes to A Levels should be relevant content, challenging subjects and grading on a curve not on a grade boundaries.

  8. Sea_Warrior
    September 25, 2023

    My guess is that Sunak has told his Cabinet to come up with eye-catching proposals and that the Education Secretary has been got at by the Civil Service. A-levels are a gold-standard of excellence and prepare the brighter students for university. They should be retained – and the pass-marks raised.
    How much maths does the average student need after 16? There’s merit in developing algebra and statistics skills.

    1. Lynn Atkinson
      September 25, 2023

      Ever tried submitting a VAT return, a tax return, balancing the books by pricing goods properly – this is needed just to run a corner shop. You don’t have enough fingers!

    2. IanT
      September 25, 2023

      “How much maths does the average student need after 16? There’s merit in developing algebra and statistics skills.”

      I studied Math to a reasonable level but can’t recall ever having to use differential calculus in my working life nor algebra really – although I do still find geometry very useful for my hobby activities. Frankly a grasp of basic arithmetic is the most useful thing in everyday life, closely followed by some simple accounting knowledge.

      Last week a shop assistant had to use her phone to work out how much change to give me (from a £5 note) for a £4.63 purchase. On the bright side, my 9yr old Grandson seems to know his times table really well, even 12 x 12! What he didn’t know was that we used to call 144 a ‘gross’. I didn’t try to confuse him further by explaining it was also a dozen dozen 🙂

    3. Mark
      September 25, 2023

      Without a good understanding of maths and statistics it is very easy for people to have the wool pulled over their eyes, or to get completely the wrong end of the stick. All very much on display during covid, with horrendous misinterpretation of data on all sides. It was evident that many people suspected that the official narrative was wrong, but often they put their fingers on the wrong reasons. It was also evident that the motives of some pushing the official narrative relied on the innumeracy of others in government and the use of fear propaganda tactics and censorship of rational voices.

      The same process applies with net zero. A properly educated public would have forced politicians to ditch the idea as infeasible and ruinous, and far worse than adapting to changes in climate we actually experience. And the politicians would likely not even suggested it in the first place.

  9. Everhopeful
    September 25, 2023

    I think it is all about STEM careers which are supposed to be “sustainable”.
    Chuck in a few soft skills like analytical thinking and you’re sorted.
    Unfortunately however the current participants aren’t all that diverse…so there will need to be a bit of the usual “tweaking” I expect.

  10. Sharon
    September 25, 2023

    I was utterly relieved to leave maths behind at GCSE level! I can still remember the teacher talking about DY by DX and to this day don’t understand why anyone would want to know the angle of a curve! Well, I certainly didn’t, anyway!

    Best to concentrate on a good standard of maths early on and let those students who want to continue with it past GCSE, do so!

    My three children studied maths to A level and two are accountants – but it was THEIR choice!

    Rishi Sunak is too much of a ban or force merchant in my opinion!

    Banning smoking – what a cheek!

  11. Bloke
    September 25, 2023

    This PM tampers with details but neglects essentials. We need a better leader or a better party.

    1. Mickey Taking
      September 25, 2023

      Perhaps the solution is both?

  12. Al
    September 25, 2023

    While forcing everyone to take Maths and English at A-level will simply result in a general reduction of grades (not everyone can pass either) I would support the remedial program of Maths and English language during the A-level years to GCSE or possibly as far down as Year Eight’s level for those who have not managed to reach a satisfactory ability by the end of GCSEs.

    With 9 million UK adults being functionally illiterate, let us focus less on graded A-levels and more on basic competence and life skills.

  13. Bryan Harris
    September 25, 2023

    There is no doubt that state education has been dumbed down, thanks mostly to the awful Blair years.

    In an effort to make life ‘fair’ the liberalists took away competitiveness, and replaced it with ‘all the same’. So the first thing we should do with education is to bring back that spirit of competitiveness. We are not all the same. Some people are brighter than others.

    Of course, everyone should have a thorough grounding in maths and English, as well as other important subjects.
    For the bright pupils there is no reason why they cannot study upto 6 subjects at high level.

    The is no reason why those who don’t want to go onto higher education should not learn practical skills, with metal and wood, as well as the basics of life works outside school.

    1. Mickey Taking
      September 25, 2023

      In order to finance universities and get the 18 to say 23 year olds to be off the streets and dole – he had the master plan ie…lower exam difficulty, promote courses and get the kids to borrow the money.
      Win, win , win. ? (maybe not).

    2. Richard II
      September 25, 2023

      I would love to see technical colleges reintroduced, and given the same respect as they are in Germany. Trouble is, where would we find staff able and willing to teach technical subjects?

  14. Peter
    September 25, 2023

    English language at O level was the basics. At A level it used to be solely the study of selected English literature texts. When I was at school there was also an examination in something called ‘The use of English’. From what I recall it was a more advanced version of the English language O level examination.

    I question the value of English literature if you don’t like the set texts. I particularly disliked Sir Walter Scott’s novels for O level. Our teachers preferred established texts as they could look at previous examination questions and reuse the books themselves for several years. I suppose it also avoided trendy works that might fall out of favour.

    For maths o level, there used to be maths and additional maths. I remember we did maths a year early. We also did the O level for two boards. The idea was to allow failures in lower streams a better chance of a resit.

    I don’t know what the impact of Sunak’s ideas will be or the state of maths teaching currently. I am told it is not great.

    A better idea would be the reintroduction of grammar schools.

    1. Mickey Taking
      September 25, 2023

      I did ‘O’ Pure maths early, while also doing Applied – then in final 6 months did Additional.
      English Lit was ok, but teacher had the class explaining every line for 5 mins…most of us read the whole book by the time we got past chapter one !! Boring.

  15. Iain gill
    September 25, 2023

    Far better to leave it as is.
    The main thing that needs fixing in the UK system is poor foreign language education, but that’s because we start too late, and we simply don’t have the volume of teachers to do it properly. Other countries are teaching foreign languages in infants schools.
    I would also be looking at what Katherine burblesingh has tweeted and said about this.
    Rishi has not got a clue about anything, he is supposed to be the prime minister taking a big picture view and joining things up, spotting gaps, bringing people together. Instead he meddling in trivia because he is incapable of grasping the big picture.

    1. Richard II
      September 25, 2023

      +100, Iain.

      Some nursery schools do songs, games and suchlike in French or another language, but there’s usually no follow through after that, for the reason you say. To improve matters, we should first think about which foreign languages are going to be of most use now.

      1. iain gill
        September 25, 2023

        to be honest we have such massive immigrant communities now that we should try and leverage that, and just use local people with native skills in any language to try and teach any language. sure they wont be formally qualified teachers, but it will at least get the kids brains thinking in another language (which will make it far easier to learn another language later). dont dictate which languages to learn, just teach whatever language skills you can find. plus plenty of scope for putting foreign language version of kids shows on TV etc, and showing these in schools etc. needs whole new approaches. plus active campaign to train up infant/junior school teachers in languages, or train new languages teachers to go out and do the work.

  16. Anthony
    September 25, 2023

    Can the extended maths syllabus include a means for people to work out if the statistical arguments make sense? We have been inundated with nonsense arguments recently about the damage done by Brexit and the benefits of net zero / certainty of man-made climate change.

    It is not reasonable to suppose that most people will understand the complex arguments involved, as they involve sophisticated statistical modelling, but can the extended syllabus implant the idea that the public (and journalists) should ask modellers “why is that a credible answer?”

    “Are the assumptions reasonable? Why are they reasonable?”

    The ability to do this is only going to become more important as more and more modelling moves into machine learning.

    If the public ask this question, then journalists and politicians will have to answer it, and hopefully it will lead to better decision making.

    It is also not more of the same stuff that pupils have already done for the rest of their school lives, so might take an interest in.

  17. Lynn Atkinson
    September 25, 2023

    Well in South Africa when I was educated under an unreformed British Education Act (I think 1934) everybody had to remain at school until the age of 16. All wrote 9 subjects to obtain the school leaving certificate at that age and the ‘C’ streamers then left school.
    ‘A’ streamers need to include Maths, a science (Science or Biology) and Afrikaans in the 6 subjects they chose and they Matriculate and gain the right to enter university at 18 – the Matriculation examinations covered 2 years worth of work and all examinations were scheduled within a 6 week period. Some subjects (Maths) consisted of two 3 hour examinations, languages consisted of an Oral examination and two written examination papers, one being ‘Comprehension’.
    ‘B’ streamers I believe had to include Afrikaans and got a Higher Education Certificate but did not Matriculate. They had subject options like ‘Woodworking’ ‘Home Economics’ and ‘Accounting’ not available to Matriculation students.
    All students had to sit the examinations, and the papers were marked by disinterested parties under allocated numbers rather than names. The marks were: over 80% for an ‘A’ (distinction); between 70% and 80% for a ‘B’; between 60% and 70% for a ‘C’; between 50% and 60% for a ‘D’; between 40% and 50% for an ‘E’; below that FAIL.
    As they progressed through school, if end of year examination were not passed the year was repeated. Everybody normal left school numerate and literate.
    This result would represent an improvement on current British education outcomes. Perhaps we should wind the clock back to the standards our forefathers set?

  18. Dave Andrews
    September 25, 2023

    My observation of engineers is that they could always do with more English education. If the need is brought to their attention, perhaps they would voluntarily continue the subject whilst doing A levels. Best if they have the choice, not have it forced on them.

  19. Javelin
    September 25, 2023

    The truth is 90% of people don’t need maths beyond age 15. That means geometry for most people , but calculus for engineers and physicists.

    I work on a trading floor and don’t need calculus or even differential equations.

    Far more important to have a maths exam at the age of 14 before you do your GCSE. That should set you up for all the basic maths you will ever need. Then keep retaking this maths exam instead of a GCSE.

    1. Dave Andrews
      September 25, 2023

      Calculus might be useful when you can prove it’s not safe to pull up at traffic lights in the time they take to go from green to red.

  20. a-tracy
    September 25, 2023

    Compulsory this, compulsory that. Get out of our lives.
    Give children the facts before choosing their own A-level subjects of what work opportunities or further education pathways there are if they continue with each set of 3 or 4 A levels they choose. What is the point of filling the brightest students’ maths classes with distracting people who can’t work at that level, holding the top students down and back as teachers’ attention is diverted and the brightest are asked to help the teacher teach the basics?

    There is a problem in this country with dyslexia: very bright students, those with high attainment in all subjects who don’t seem to structure essays in the way examiners require, stop enjoying reading because lines merge being undiagnosed. If you force them into higher-level English subjects without diagnoses and tools to help them, it is torture to them.

  21. Vic Sarin
    September 25, 2023

    In my view “extra” maths and / or English are not suitable, or required for a great many students, any more than University is suitable to all students. We are supposed to be preparing our young people for the world that awaits them post teenagers. For many, or even the majority a good grasp of arithmetic and sound grounding in English is more than enough.
    A better solution is to give them an opportunity in education in which to develop an interest in a variety of subjects- instead of a narrow based approach.

  22. agricola
    September 25, 2023

    That everyone can benefit from being literate and numerate is a given. The level it needs to be taken to is governed by the chosen career path. However for everyone I would include an understanding of money so that the nation does not become victim to those that thrive on ignorance. Government itself being one of the major thrivers on ignorance.

    My own school decided a few years ago to offer the Baccalaureate for a wider choice of subjects after “O”Level. It rather depends on the attitude of universities and other chosen career paths.

    I would point out that you do not need to look far to find more pressing subjects to discuss.

    1. Lynn Atkinson
      September 25, 2023

      Uneducated people cannot defend themselves or their country. This is a very pressing subject.

  23. The Meissen Bison
    September 25, 2023

    The current short-comings of our public exam system origiate with GCSEs replacing O-levels and CSEs. O-levels were of a higher standard and led logically to the next more specialised academic level whereas CSEs were easier and allowed less able pupils to obtain certificates of ability before leaving school and heading for employment or vocational courses.

    O-levels also catered for different standards of ability; thus pupils were able to sit, for example, Elementary Maths as well as Additional Maths and English Literature (with set books) as well as English Language.

    The standards for A-level were commensurately higher since they took the pupil from the more demanding O-level through a further two years of schooling. The range of subjects proposed by the examination boards was less frivolous than it is today.

    Any reforms to the public exam sysytem should logically be addressed in the chronological order in which individuals sit them.

  24. David Andrews
    September 25, 2023

    More top down direction is not the answer. One of my grandchildren went to a school that offered both A level courses and the baccalaureate as alternatives. She chose the latter. Her younger sister opted for A levels but to get her choice of A levels has moved to a sixth form college that offered her choices. This is as it should be. One shoe does not fit all sizes of feet.

  25. formula57
    September 25, 2023

    Were it to help prevent introduction of some British baccalauréat I would even vote Labour.

    The great advantage of the present system is its flexibility, allowing students to pick what they favour and so likely do well. To demand proficiency in some subjects as a condition to graduating or even advancing is to place an unreasonable and unnecessary hurdle that enough will be defeated by. That is morally reprehensible.

    Certainly levels of innumeracy in this country (and most others) are typically poor but there are much better solutions to that problem than blighting the educational ambitions of a generation. Be damned to Sunak and his evil notions.

  26. William Long
    September 25, 2023

    I agree with pretty well all that have already been posted (9.03 GMT). All the maths and English that are likely to be of practical use in a non-specialist life should have been learnt long before ‘A’ level. That many people have not done so, is due to shortcomings in the educational system at a much earlier level, and it is these that still need reform, not ‘A’ levels. This however, would require the political courage to face up to the socialist teaching profession.

  27. Wanderer
    September 25, 2023

    Ludicrous. The country was a lot better when we taught the “three R’s” and much beyond that it was for the student to decide what they wanted to study.

    Look what pushing people to go to university has done! Dumb degrees, clueless debt-ridden graduates and multiple careers that were once open to anyone with talent being restricted to graduates only. Government should stop interfering in people’s lives.

  28. Mike Wilson
    September 25, 2023

    This is a truly absurd idea. In this day and age, who on earth needs more than ‘O’ level Maths and English. If they haven’t learned enough Maths and English by the time they are 16 – blame the teachers. Your government gets nuttier by the day.

    If Mr. Redwood will allow, this is a link to a talk by Sir Ken Robinson on the subject ‘Do Schools Kill Creativity’.

    I’d suggest you get Sunak to listen to it. As the man says ‘children in school today will do jobs that haven’t been invented yet’ – and a whole lot more. It’s 20 minutes long.

    1. formula57
      September 25, 2023

      @ Mike Wilson – thank you so much, that Robinson youtube video was thought-provoking, hugely entertaining and worrying.

  29. Iain Moore
    September 25, 2023

    When a politician suggests reform we should worry, for more likely than not their meddling will result in something worse , if not corrupt what we have. A levels have worked fine , and have for generations , leave them alone. Before Sunak goes meddling he should show us he can do his job elsewhere, I don’t know, perhaps actually get some control over the anarchy taking place at our borders.

  30. Christine
    September 25, 2023

    It will never happen as your party will not be in power next year so I wouldn’t worry about it.

    We all know from the exam results given out in recent years that the less time pupils spend in the classroom the better they do. The value of exam results has been watered down as many youngsters I meet nowadays seem to know very little.

    Instead of tinkering with things that aren’t broken please fix the major problems this country faces. Your leader seems to live in a parallel universe.

  31. J+M
    September 25, 2023

    There needs to be a fundamental re-think of the education system. I still consider the abolition of the grammar school system and the creation of the comprehensive system to have been an act of educational vandalism. The ladder that provided academically able children from disadvantaged backgrounds to access a rigorous education was removed.

    We are shoe horning all children through an academic system. Not all children are academic. We need to devise a system that identifies where the aptitude of each child lies and provides them with an education that meets their aptitude. This needs to be properly funded, which perhaps the secondary modern schools were not. Also it would need able teachers. Too many of our teachers are second rate and lacking in aspiration for their pupils.

    Further, any new system needs to have soft edges so that there is not a once and for all selection made at 11 or 13 but children are enabled to move between systems.

  32. James1
    September 25, 2023

    It seems to me that proficiency in arithmetic and English would probably be of more benefit to the average person in their working life than proficiency in algebra and geometry. A modicum of skill in typing would also doubtless not go amiss, given that so many of us are faced increasingly with computer keyboards. However, far be it from me to suggest that anyone should be dragooned into learning any such aptitudes. It is for individuals to pursue whatever learning they decide is best for them, and politicians should have no say in it. Another lamentable case of vast overreach.

  33. 8agricola
    September 25, 2023

    Government is where mathmatical talent is most required.
    Take HS2, I cannot imagine any modern day I.K.Brunel considering such a project because there is no visible profit. Existing railways are unprofitable if you take out all the subsidy(Tax from taxpayers), and the crazily high fares. Add to it people not commuting so frequently since covid and an out of control civil service staying at home.
    Given that government decided to make it a vanity project why did they employ the financially illiterate to come up with a £35 Billion estimate of cost that now looks likely to exceed £100 Billion. Are these financial fantasists still being employed. They have already negated its speed advantage by stopping it short of London. I think government have dug themselves a very big hole to which their only answer is to keep digging. All because government cannot add up, whatever skills they may claim. A glance at what is charged by profit making airlines to fly to Malaga and back, 2400 miles, might suggest that government have yet again backed the wrong horse. Meanwhile the bookies, those contracted to create HS2 have found a nice little earner. And here is the clever bit, it is you, me, and a few million other taxpayers who are being screwed to pay for it.

  34. Ian B
    September 25, 2023

    Agree with @LifeLogic, WHY? Rishi’s version of A Conservative Government has a lot of balls in the air and solving absolutely nothing, zilch, zero. Although the cancel, ban, keep your fingers in your ears, and not listen does for him seem to be the replacement for doing at times

    My analysis would be this is more deflection while seemingly electioneering. There is an election around the corner and what ever the result nothing will change we will be in the same mess

  35. Ian B
    September 25, 2023

    I am of the sect that believes the World and its people is able to advance when the ‘best-of-the-best’ is strived for. In that context A Levels fail, surely if we are trying to identify the top achievers, meaning the top grade should be with the top 5%(10% whatever).

    It is the same with employment, good employers don’t look to fill quoters, they do not have ‘discrimination’ departments – they simply look for the best candidate for the position offered. But if everyone is marked the same out of each batch how do you choose?

    Politics, extreme evangelistic politics have crept into societies life, in a nutshell we have political lead doctrine of you agree with me or get cancelled. That type of indoctrination has come from schooling, pupils are not shown how to learn but are brow beaten into doing what we say. So A Levels with everyone on the same grade is the reward for being cloned. It kills the ability of the World to move on.

  36. Bert+Young
    September 25, 2023

    As someone who was involved with education at school and university level ( quite a few years ago both in this country and abroad ) I was interested – and concerned with Sunak’s recent comments . Maths and effective communication are important elements in life and there is some justification in criticising the present GCSE system . Any change ought to come with intense consultation however and only with those involved now in the education system . The ” A” level approach with concentration on 4 – 5 level subjects is basically sound both as a test for University entrance and general qualification ; it should be left as it is ; GCSEs are a different matter however . Sunak is delving into all manner of topics to try to keep voters on his side ; he ought to have more sense and leave some areas alone .

  37. Ian B
    September 25, 2023

    Sir John

    Noting your last comment. My understanding was that the root of your education was in Kent. Kent wasn’t exactly an outlier when it came to education, but back then it was run differently to most of the rest of the Country. The good old 11 plus wasn’t the ‘b’ all and end all as Socialist doctrine suggested, 14 was also an assessment age, as well as any time in between. There were 3 tiers of secondary education, modern, technical and grammar and pupils could slide between should the need arise.

    It was always about achieving the ‘best-of-the-best’ or more correctly extracting the best from the individual what ever that should be. The connotation associated with a so called ‘grammar’ school that existed elsewhere in the Socialist sphere was the complete opposite in Kent.

  38. Ian B
    September 25, 2023

    Education is blurred by Socialist ‘group think’. Academic achievements have nothing to do with being ‘bright’ – just look at this Conservative Government of for that matter the majority of the HoC.

    As in life if you are unable to listen, more importantly hear what others are saying you fail. Reaching for the cancel button every time there is an opposing view should discount you from society – we are all bettered by being challenged.

    Rishi here has reached for the deflection button trying to cancel his failings.

  39. THUTCH
    September 25, 2023

    I was forced to English Lit for A’ Level – and hated it.
    Would have preferred to do Statistics, and that would have really helped prepare me for University where I studied Economics. But my school didn’t offer it.
    I think Stats would be good to include as a topic in the 6th form – maybe if our politicians and journalists were all numerate, we wouldn’t suffer so many policy mistakes.

  40. 8agricola
    September 25, 2023

    SJR, I have a suggestion for your conference among the litany of abject failure we witness just about everywhere in our United Kingdom.
    Try to encourage an outbreak of common sense in relation to eveything you discuss and the problems the UK faces which you avoid discussing.
    Can I suggest a person with an aerosol fog horn for use when any rhetoric or just plain lies is detected coming from anyone on the platform. Will we continue to endure censureship by refusal of platform time to anyone who thinks outside the box. Will you be forced to speak off piste.

  41. Ralph Corderoy
    September 25, 2023

    ‘The case seems to revolve around the idea that everyone should do maths beyond GCSE level, and maybe continue with English.’

    I’ve gathered the percentage distribution of grades 9 to 1 plus U for 16-year-olds taking GCSEs in 2023 from https://analytics.ofqual.gov.uk/apps/GCSE/9to1/

     9    8    7    6    5    4    3    2    1    U
     3.0  5.9  9.9 17.5 18.8 16.5 17.3  6.5  3.0  1.6  English language
     4.1  7.7  9.4 12.4 18.9 19.9 12.2  8.3  5.4  1.8  Mathematics
    13.2 14.5 15.6 20.0 17.0 10.0  6.6  1.6  0.5  1.1  Physics

    For English language and maths, the 9-1 looks like a normal distribution but once the U is included, it is clear that there should be a grade 10 to separate those currently bundled as grade 9; about 1.5% would achieve it instead of being let down.

    It is even more obvious that the Physics exam is failing those getting grade 9. Many should be getting a grade 10, with some a grade 11 or even 12. And how are universities meant to use the GCSE results of the 13.2% of grade 9s to help separate the A-level ties?

    I think the difference between the patterns is explained by English language and maths being taken by those not particularly keen on the subjects but who aren’t allowed to drop it. Whereas those taking physics are typically keen on it and interest in a subject makes all the difference.

    Rishi seems to think that more maths teaching will improve the abilities of 18-year-olds compared to their two-year younger selves. This is clearly true for some as it’s how they reach A-level grade today. But most don’t have an interest in the topic, find what’s being taught boring, lack a good foundation like mental reckoning from knowing times-tables, and consequently take no delight in juggling with the concepts. ‘What are the gaps between 2² 3² 4² and 5²? Why do they have that pattern? What’s the gap between 100² and 101² without working out either of the square numbers?’

    I did Mathematics ’O’ level and then Maths GCSE two years later. The GCSE was easier, especially given coursework projects formed part of the mark. Decades of grade inflation will have only enlarged the gap.

    If Rishi wants better maths skills then start with primary school, borrow from the Trivium, and drill in ‘three threes are nine’ at the same time as ‘the wheels on the bus go round and round’. The lines can be readily learnt, only giving them purpose later. Then compress the maths curriculum, restoring the old O-level quality, and introducing more GCSE grades to distinguish the distinguished.

    But I doubt any change will occur unless the Blob want it. Doris Lessing summed it up well in The Golden Notebook.

    ‘Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: “You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.”’

    Those who took the grade-inflated GCSEs are now teaching those who are taking further inflated exams and will in turn be teachers. It’s the wrong slope.

    School use to be a combination of childcare and indoctrination by the state. Nowadays, it’s the Blob’s views which are instilled. Dominic Frisby’s book ‘Life after the state’ explores how the self-evolved education system worked before the British Government commandeered it, destroying it. Fortunately, the Internet and Free Schools are helping to break the state and thus Blob’s hold and could return us to better education. Measurements suggest three hours of a state pupil’s day are spent learning.

  42. ChrisS
    September 25, 2023

    Having done A Level Maths and Physics and gone on to HNC Applied Physics, I can see no prospect of all students being able to assimilate the complexity of A Level pure or applied maths as it was taught to us.

    The time would be far better spent giving those students who failed O Level maths extra tuition to at least reach O Level standard. Those that passed Maths O Level but don’t want to specialise in the subject, could undertake a simplified course to bolster their knowledge in practical mathematics. Only those that want to go into the sciences really need pure maths and engineers need applied Maths.

    I have no idea how the maths curriculum has changed in 55 years, so it may be that A Level Maths is not much more demanding that O Level was back then !

  43. The Prangwizard
    September 25, 2023

    It’s of no particular relevance but in studying for basic Institute of Bankers exams, one was economics. I was told it was the pretty much the same as A level so I took both, I think in the same week, and passed them both. I found the subject easy, most of my work consisted of reading newspapers and looking at one or two books. This was in the late 1960s.

  44. Original Richard
    September 25, 2023

    There is no point in maths beyond GCSE if the teachers will be informing the students that 2 +2 can be anything you want.

    The Educational Establishment has damaged the country more than any other profession. It started with the cancelling of grammar schools to stop upward mobility.

    It has now infected all the other professions and institutions with woke (communist) ideology and has corrupted science (biology and physics) beyond belief. Now it is even infecting the primary schools with crazy ideas and taking us back to the Medieval Dark Ages of witch hunts.

    Its greed has caused millions of young people to be left with useless degrees and very large debts, caused massive immigration with the influx of foreign students with their families who never leave, and caused the giving away of our IP to 120,000 Chinese spies pretending to be students.

  45. forthurst
    September 25, 2023

    The exam system has been badly degraded by Tony Blair having decreed that 50% of school levers should attend university and further by the Tories’ privatisation of the exam system. As a result of this we have had an algal bloom of courses provided by ex-polys designed to enrich the institutions whilst impoverishing the students. Furthermore, entry to top universities has become a lottery as the privatised exam boards have progressively degraded the exams and marking and, of course, making them easier to mark, ie multiple choice questions, resulting in armies of students with top grades fighting over a limited number of course places as well.
    It is not possible to design exams which are suitable for the whole range of ability: it is simply too great, so the first mistake was to merge the CSE and GCE exams. The second is the dumbing down of all exams so a much higher proportion of students than is wise can pass them. I seem to recall that when I sat these exams, the O level was aimed at about 20% and the A level at 10%.
    So what is the way forward: firstly to de-dumb and de-privatise the exams. Second to replace the A levels with an International Baccalaureate style exam so that more subjects are studied for university entrance
    than the present over specialisation, allowing people with no knowledge of maths or science, making our laws designed to make us poorer whilst saving the planet which is not in jeopardy other than from low ability Tory nitwits who want to involve us in a world war to further the ambitions of some carpet-chewing nutcases infesting the US State department.

  46. Bill B.
    September 25, 2023

    Meanwhile in other news, I see all Covid fines are to be repaid by the state. They were “an abuse of criminal law and an infringement of human rights”, according to a Ministerial statement. Quite right and about time!

    Oh wait, this is in Slovenia.

  47. XY
    September 25, 2023

    With university degrees being increasingly both necessary yet often also useless, the option to move into an apprenticeship seems sensible on the face of it.

    However, I see a number of kids finding ways to leave school at 16 by stating that they want to find an apprenticeship, then giving up the job rapidly. They sit on a couch for months and their future is largely determined by various uncontrolled factors (do the parent(s) mind, do they push them to find work, do the children want to fijnd work and earn? etc).

    If that is to be the system, then those leaving at 16 need to be monitored to ensure that they are either in education or in work/training. How you make someone who is 17 go back to education having missed a year of school is another challenge, of course. Probably they need to have their own colleges for people in that situation.

    The “apprenticeships” themseleves also need to be formalised and monitored. Many are simply using cheap about to make the coffee, they are not teaching young people skills that can help them become self sufficient.

    Perhaps we should only allow “vocational” apprenticeships such as accountancy.

    The State, as is often the case with eductaion, took a working system that wasn’t broken and produced something worse, in the name of “equality”. Yet again, trying to produce the impossible dream of equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity.

    Another aspect of eduaction is to regulate university offerings. Unlimited teahcing to China, online or ptherwise, useless degrees – there should be limits on this. If everyone in the future is to have A-level Maths then courses must be tailored appropriately – we cannot have universities offering 90% of courses as non-STEM degrees.

    1. Original Richard
      September 25, 2023

      XY ;

      The answer you’re looking for is to bring back conscription – not military service conscription, although this can be included – but social services conscription – and to include both sexes.

      This would not only provide the necessary missing services our current institutions are unable to provide but enable young people to be active, earn some money and get training in worthwhile trades.

      And get out of the clutches of the Educational Establishment.

  48. XY
    September 25, 2023

    The other point here is that students who are lost will not suddenly become better by being forced to sit in a classroom for 2 more years.

    If you’ve been left behind, you don’t magically catch up by being told to learn something more advanced, which depends on you having understood… the stuff you didn’t understand.

    I know people in that position (no I’m not “asking for a friend”, my degrees include maths and stats) – I see how people cannot overcome their fear of a subject when they’re already lost – often simply because they’ve missed some key, prerequisite part of it.

    I’d prefer to see a basic level of maths (and English) as a compulsory pass in order to leave school. If necessary, they stay on from 16 – 18 with REMEDIAL lessons of the SAME subject matter. Otherwise, it’s like asking people who never learned to count to do a course in algebra – a waste of time. It will only lead to bad behaviour and frustration.

    Sunak just doesn’t live in the real world, where many “families” (I use the term loosely) simply do not value education as much as his peers do. Their kids are already left behind by the time they reach 16 – that is the problem that needs to be addressed, 16 is way too late for useful intervention.

  49. outsider
    September 25, 2023

    Dear Sir John,
    In my implistic view, the purpose of education from kindergarten to GCSEs is to give us all we need to be a fully-functional, responsible and confident citizen, morally, socially and politically, and to equip us all to earn a living. The aim is for all to attain a certain standard, not to sort sheep from goats, except in pointing to sensible subjects for further study.
    A – levels should teach one everything one wants to know about a smaller range of subjects unless one is to pursue one fully at university, including practical subjects. Here grades do matter.
    Approximately a zillion years ago, our six forms ran for up to three years: two for A-level and a third, if needed, for a higher grade wanted by top universities. This third year has now become a gap year, highly valuable for some but not others.
    If three year sixth forms became standard, we could accommodate compulsory maths and English. Should we?
    Higher maths is vital for many other studies: economics, statistics, engineering, electronics, “scientific” research and even opinion polling. But it rapidly requires ever higher levels of mental abstraction that are beyond many intellectually intellingent people so that failure rates are likely to be stupidly high.

  50. Jonathan Marsden
    September 25, 2023

    Dear sir John.
    I have admired you and your beliefs for decades and just read your post on A levels. I was raised, along with my four brothers and two sisters on what most people would call rough, scummy council estates. I was good enough to pass my 11 plus and along with all my brothers and sisters went to two excellent grammar schools. Those schools helped lift myself and my siblings out of poverty and we all managed to escape those God awful council estates. Why will the Consevative party not commit to expanding and building more grammar schools?. It will most certainly be a vote winner especially in the former red wall seats that the Conservatives took away from Labour.
    Regards Jonathan

    1. paul cuthbertson
      September 25, 2023

      JM – The government does not want educated people who think for themselves, they want obedient servants, hence the dumbing down of the Education curriculum over the years.

  51. Iago
    September 25, 2023

    There may well be another Armenian massacre/genocide going on in Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) Would you suggest to the government that they at least direct their attention to this? It is no use looking to or waiting for the Biden administration, they are utterly indifferent.

  52. Neil Sutherland
    September 25, 2023

    Learning to code plus Mandarin would be more useful to many.

    1. Lynn Atkinson
      September 25, 2023

      AI is computer coding themselves. No need for human coders anymore. I’ll never speak Mandarin, German (although I can read and write it proficiently) or Afrikaans under any circumstances.
      It would be nice if English people spoke good English, understood tenses ‘I was sat’ etc.

      1. Lifelogic
        September 26, 2023

        “I was sat there” or I were sat there” is surely just regional dialect? Some people down south even pronounce bath as bar-th and grass as grar-ss but we do not complain.

        1. Mickey Taking
          September 26, 2023

          ha ha.

  53. Dunedin
    September 25, 2023

    When I was at school (State high school) over fifty years ago, English and Maths were compulsory for every year. We also had compulsory Arithmetic at O-Grade. From what I recall, teaching everyone Arithmetic would be more useful to most plus a good understanding of statistics, percentages and financial education.

  54. Paula
    September 25, 2023

    There is already an off the peg International Baccalaureate. Use this.
    The British cannot be trusted to ensure the value of their A levels so a British Baccalaureate is bound to be equally as crap.

    1. a-tracy
      September 26, 2023

      Having looked this up, perhaps this is the qualification Rishi wants to add for all-rounders. It wouldn’t do for the STEM (is the most essential grouping ever) sorts. Or the BTEC practical groups that Labour want to rename T Levels in an attempt to make the candidates feel they are equal to A Level and not undervalued.

      International IB is six subjects; 3 higher 3 standard includes a literature course, a second language, a humanity, science and maths. The IB Diploma course consists of nine elements: six academic subjects and three core components called the Theory of Knowledge, the Extended Essay, and a self-development course called Creativity, Activity and Service. The IB Diploma student chooses three subjects at higher level and three at standard level. The subjects are divided into six groups. These include a literature course, a second language, a humanity, a science and mathematics (at a level appropriate to the student). You can view the six groups below:
      These include English Literature and Language, Mathematics, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Latin, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Economics, Geography, History, Design Technology, Visual Arts, Music, Philosophy, Psychology, and even learning Spanish or Italian from beginner level.

  55. Peter D Gardner
    September 26, 2023

    I don’t know the rationale or the detail of Rishi Sunak’s proposals. However I would have thought that if it is toi correct the slide of UK down the scales of international comparisons of educational achievement it is teaching at O Level and below that needs reform. This is the level that should provide everyone with the ability to enter into business and deal with the normal transactions of life and is clearly failing – good maths and English are essential for all at this level. Also needed at this level are languages, history, religious studies and other subjects to make for a rounded education.
    At the higher A level the aim is somewhat different. It is to invest in areas of higher ability on which a path through university can be determined and in which the candidate may excel. The age old debate has been whether this stage is too narrow. Scientists and engineers need more than A levels in maths, physics, chmistry, biology if they are to understand the context of their future work and to be able to communicate.
    One thing is certain though. Brainwashing on woke issues is extremely damaging. The aim of all education is above all to teach pupils how to think not what to think. They need to be taught how to evaluate ideas, how to reason. This should start at kindergarden and be maintained right through to university. Thus the maths syllabus at O and A level should include logic using formulae and set theory and the English syllabus should include grammar and the rules of logical reasoning – encouraged through debates, essays, critiques etc.

    1. Peter D Gardner
      September 26, 2023

      PS. Another thing. Restore university education to intellectual activity and enable those who would be more suited to practical or manual activities to become excellent in those areas. Remember as an example that musical instruments were invented, developed and refined over time by manual craftsmen empirically through practice and experimentation, not through science. Likewise musical composition and visual arts. These are the higher levels of culture and they rely on manual skills. And it is the plumber, not the scientist, who fixes your hot water and central heating; it is the mechanic, not the scientist who fixes your broken car, industrial plant etc. You need many more of these than you do the scientists and engineers who design and build these machines and structures.

      1. Mickey Taking
        September 26, 2023

        Back to the need for more apprenticeships !

  56. Frances
    September 26, 2023

    A levels should be about exploration. They need financial education for life not maths they will never need or use and many will find utter poison. Whats the obsession with control and exam grades?

  57. James
    September 26, 2023

    I was educated with the Scottish system. In that system then our last two years before university consisted of highers in 5th year and highers or advanced highers in 6th year. The only subjects you were expected to take was higher English and maths in 5th year. I also did maths as an advanced higher in 6th year. From my own personal experience I could not wait to stop doing English as a subject and doubt it contributed much to my learning. I was happy to continue maths but others were not so interested. I feel that that forcing people to do subjects they are not interested in has little value and will harm those who are interested. While I am interested in English and writing, I have little interest in fiction and extracting meaning from it, unfortunately that was the sole focus of English throughout my school journey. The purpose of the last years of school should be to focus on subjects that people have most interest in and begin learning how to move on to the next stage of learning.

  58. adam
    September 29, 2023

    why do we grade exams for perfection instead of effort. it is discouraging students. humans are not perfection machines. grade boundaries should be on the lower half of the %s so that 50%+ is a A.

Comments are closed.