Labour's new AS-level exam system has come under fire from two pupils with special links to the New Labour project – the teenage daughters of two of Tony Blair's closest allies. At a question- and-answer session with the education minister Margaret Hodge, Alex Birtles, the 16-year-old daughter of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Patricia Hewitt, and her school friend Georgia Gould, the daughter of Philip, New Labour's policy supremo, and Gail Rebuck, the chief executive of the publishers Random House, said the new system was "confusing" and was giving them sleepless nights.
Their complaints came a week after Cherie Blair's personal assistant, Fiona Millar, urged parents at her children's school to campaign against education budget cuts.
Miss Gould and Miss Birtles are in the lower sixth of the comprehensive Camden School for Girls in north London, and live with their parents near Ms Millar and her partner, Tony Blair's spin doctor Alastair Campbell. Camden School has been popular with Labour image-makers, who have used it to highlight new education initiatives.
The girls made their comments at a question-and-answer session with Mrs Hodge, a friend of Patricia Hewitt's, with four other sixth-formers at a central London hotel.
Miss Gould, who will be head girl next year, told the minister: "AS-levels create this stress and pressure, meaning you cannot enjoy your subject or read around it. It's all about exam technique and about preparing for these exams."
Miss Birtles, a senior prefect, added: "I don't sleep properly any more, mainly because of all the work I have to do and for thinking about all the things I need to do, and haven't done yet. I lie awake and worry. And you feel guilty if you do something not work-related."
Miss Gould continued: "I haven't read a book that's not directly related to the topics I'll be taking my exams on for ages. I had to give up judo because of my GCSEs and now there is just no time to do anything else but work. To me, the sixth form should be about enjoying my subjects, not just about exams."
Under the new exam system, pupils take a number of AS – or Advanced Subsidiary – levels in their first year of the sixth form, dropping or adding to subjects for the second year when they take the full A-level.
Margaret Hodge told the pupils the new system created flexibility. She said: "I only did three A-levels and with that system you can sometimes make the wrong choices. With this new system you can try things. One of my biggest hopes is that at some point I can do my physics A-level, something I've not yet been able to do.
"I think it would be terrible to put further big changes in at the moment. I hope the results will go well this summer."
Miss Birtles replied: "This is not something we can just hope on. This is our future that we are talking about.
"I understand the need to create stability in a system to restore confidence, but it has to be a system that works. In my history course I had to teach the last unit to myself because we ran out of time."
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