Speaking in Worcester, Mr Patten introduced a three point programme of action: a Code of Practice to guarantee already high standards and ensure greater consistency between examination boards; a new 'A starred grade' to recognise more effectively those candidates of exceptional ability; and a review of AS qualifications in order to promote their use as a means of extending choice and breadth in the curriculum.
Mr Patten said: 'GCE A levels are here to stay. Of course GCE A levels do not suit all students, but that is no reason to scrap them, as some now advocate. We want, instead, to offer high quality alternatives to the A level. That is why we are promoting vigorously the new General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs), such as those in Manufacturing, Business and Art and Design; and we are re- naming the advanced level GNVQs 'vocational A levels' so that they enjoy parity of esteem with the GCE A level.
The International Baccalaureate adds to the richness of choice available to schools which want to offer their students more than just the GCE A level.
I have asked Sir Ron to advise on: the implementation of a common code of practice for A and AS levels to ensure greater consistency between the exam boards, as recommended recently by OFSTED; I particularly want to know how we can improve consistency in spelling, punctuation and grammar; the introduction as soon as possible of a new 'starred A grade' in order to reward exceptional ability among the growing number of candidates now obtaining A grades; and ways to encourage the greater take-up of AS examinations, which can do so much to broaden the studies of young people.
'This is a significant agenda of action. It will help to preserve and enhance the integrity of our public examinations and ensure that A levels remain popular and challenging into the next century.'