Letting pupils with three Es at A level go to university is “a lunacy”, an education minister has said.
Lord Agnew told a room of school leaders: “Why are we letting kids go to university with three Es at A level? Why? It’s a lunacy.
“There are people who are going to have to pick up the tab for that kind of madness.”
He also criticised a lack of academic rigour among pupils, saying that it was partly down to the increased use of social media.
The minister was addressing independent-school headteachers at a one-day education conference at Brighton College.
His comments pre-empt the publication of a government review into higher education, chaired by former investment banker Philip Augar. This review is expected to recommend that pupils who fail to achieve three Ds at A level will not qualify for a student loan to go to university.
He added that, in the House of Lords, "siren voices" were "calling for lowering standards".
And he suggested that social media might also be to blame for a lack of academic rigour. “Rigour – it’s not a palatable subject,” he said. “Whether it’s part of this whole social-media world that’s swept across us – I don’t know.”
Lord Agnew's comments came during an outspoken question-and-answer session with conference delegates, during which he also suggested that teachers were ungrateful for their pensions.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that schools and universities are far better-placed than government ministers to make decisions about what is best for individual students.
“Lord Agnew needs to get out less,” he said. "He’s working for a government that bangs on about social mobility, and one of the best ways to ensure social mobility is to go to university.
"We should be celebrating the fact that we’re trying to get young people into university.”