Maths and English 'A-level essentials'

January 24, 1997

Applicants for university places should have at least an AS level in English or another language and maths or a science, says the Institute for Public Policy Research report on business policy.

The report, from a commission chaired by George Bain, principal of the London Business School, and including several leading business figures, will be influential in forming policy if Labour wins the election. It sees broadening entry requirements as the first step in A-level reform in order to broaden the skills of the workforce.

"I feel very strongly about this," said Professor Bain. "Every report calls for A-level reform and nothing seems to happen. It is to a great extent in the hands of the universities."

The demand was reinforced during the conference held to launch the report by Richard Layard, a commission member and professor of economics at the London School of Economics.

"We have the most specialised academic system in the world, and only about 6 or 7 per cent of the population do any serious maths after the age of 16. We need people with both quantitative and communications skills. Full-scale reform will take time, but the AS level requirement is something we can do now," he said.

The report also calls for a shift in the emphasis of post-compulsory funding. Subdegree courses should be free while those taking degrees should make repayments of around 20 per cent of their tuition fees.

The report was endorsed in broad terms by Labour leader Tony Blair. But he emphasised: "This is not a Labour party document or Labour policy."

Michael Heseltine, deputy prime minister, angered commission members by treating it as a partisan politically-motivated document. He said: "You have to question the motives of those who cloak their political intentions in academic integrity."

The report also calls for: * mandatory traineeships for 16 to 19-year-olds not in full-time education

* science spending to be increased to the level of Britain's competitors

* reformed teacher training and assessment

* advanced information networks in adult education and training

* more flexible funding of training and enterprise councils

* maximum class sizes of 30 in primary schools.

* nursery places for three to four-year-olds.

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