Speaking ahead of GCSE results day, Gillian Keegan defended her remarks that students will not be asked about their A-level grades in 10 years’ time.
Her comments last week – which came as students across the country collected their A-level results – were branded as “incredibly rude and dismissive” by Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson.
Ms Keegan told Sky News her remarks were “taken out of context, as they always are”.
She added: “But it is true and I will stand by the comments, because I was asked this actually after a business guy had said the same in an earlier interview, and I will stand by the comments.
“As somebody who has worked for 30 years in business, that has employed hundreds if not thousands of people, I can honestly say I have never asked anybody for their A-level results or what grades they got.
“That is just the reality, 10 years later which is the time period I was asked about, that is the reality.”
Ms Keegan stressed there are a number of different options that can be taken by school and college leavers – such as apprenticeships.
“So if you are wanting to get into the workplace, and if you are wanting to earn and learn, there are alternative routes for you if you are wanting to skip the student debt then that is also an option for you,” she said.
Students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive their GCSE results on Thursday this week, and results for many Level 2 vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) are also expected.
Ms Keegan told Times Radio that GCSEs were “very important” exams.
The Education Secretary said: “For me, they were very important because I didn’t do A-levels. They were the thing that got me onto my apprenticeship.
“For me because that was my step into the workplace, they were a game changer and I also didn’t think I was going to pass many and I ended up passing more than I thought.
“For me they were vitally important. But clearly every part of your journey is to the next destination and it depends what that destination is.”
Ms Keegan added: “If you are going into an apprenticeship straight from school like I did then they are very important. If you are going on to other qualifications then obviously those qualifications will become the next thing that will take you to the next destination.”
Exams regulator Ofqual has said a return to pre-pandemic grading means this year’s national GCSE results in England will be lower than last year and similar to levels in 2019 – the year before coronavirus.
In Wales and Northern Ireland, GCSE results are expected to return to pre-pandemic levels next year.
Last week, some 73,000 fewer top A-level grades were awarded in England, Wales and Northern Ireland than last year as part of efforts to bring results back down to pre-pandemic levels.
But there were around 32,000 more top grades awarded than in 2019.
Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, said the worry for pupils is that one dropped grade in English and maths GCSEs “can mean missing out on a sixth form place, damaging future life prospects”.
“Admissions into sixth form are a lottery across the country, with a range of criteria used to decide which pupils get a place,” he added.
Prof Elliot Major has suggested that this year’s GCSE results will show a “chasm” in school achievement between pupils from low and middle income homes and their more privileged peers “who have been insulated from the damage wreaked by the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis”.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research (CEER) at the University of Buckingham, has suggested there could be around 300,000 fewer top GCSE grades this week in a “shock” to pupils and their parents.
The education expert has said this year’s GCSE results day “will not be as enjoyable” as during the pandemic years and families may find the expected drop in top grades “hard to accept”.
It comes after Covid-19 led to an increase in top GCSE grades in 2020 and 2021, with results based on teacher assessments instead of exams.