Miliband backs reform of A-level grades to help universities recognise most gifted

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The Independent Online

The Government is to back moves to shake up A-levels to allow the highest-flying pupils to "distinguish'' themselves.

The Government is to back moves to shake up A-levels to allow the highest-flying pupils to "distinguish'' themselves.

David Miliband, the School Standards minister, said that a method of recognising pupils' "distinctive" achievements was needed. He was speaking during a defence of A-level standards on the eve of results expected to show a further increase in the number of candidates being awarded A-grade passes.

Universities have complained that they have no way of singling out the brightest candidates. Mike Tomlinson, the former chief schools inspector who is heading an inquiry into exam reform, has proposed to split the A grade into four. This would show universities which candidates were high-flyers and which had just scraped an A-grade pass.

Mr Miliband rejected criticism that a rise in the pass rate meant A-levels had been "dumbed down". The claim that children in "middle England haven't got the brains to do well in school" was a myth.

He said the pass rate meant only 22,000 pupils out of 600,000 got three grade-A passes. "Take a primary-school class of 30 kids," he added. "Only one is going to get three As at A-level." Speaking afterwards, he added: "You might ask instead, 'What are we going to do about the other 29?'"

However, he acknowledged that, with one in five scripts now being awarded A grades, there was a need to recognise "distinctive achievement".

"The answer to rising numbers of A grades is not to shift the goalposts so more people are downgraded but instead to create new opportunities for the most able youngsters to distinguish themselves," he said. "Vigilance and reform, yes; myth-making, no."

His comments were a sign that the Government will back any proposal from the Tomlinson inquiry to differentiate between A-grade candidates.

He also said that, while the standard of A-levels remained the same, it had become easier for pupils to achieve top-grade passes.

His speech coincided with a pamphlet by the centre-right Bow Group showing that nine out of 10 academics believed the value of an A-grade pass had diminished in the past decade.