Rigour, for all its strengths, has become the bogeyman in education. It's difficult to argue against: if you're not being tough then you must be soft, and no one, especially in power, wants to be seen that way.
Back in 1986 it was invoked by Sir Keith Joseph, then education secretary, to persuade prime minister Margaret Thatcher that replacing O-levels with GCSEs would not lower standards as she feared, but would in fact inject "more rigour" into the system.
More recently, the word was almost synonymous with former education secretary Michael Gove, whose reforms to introduce "more rigorous content" and "increase the rigour of qualifications" are now painfully under way.
Against this backdrop, it's a brave man who calls for A-levels to be replaced. Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor of the University of Reading and a former Department for Education permanent secretary, wants a baccalaureate system of core specialist subjects supplemented with extended project work, numeracy, literacy, computer science and "softer, non-cognitive skills". He says A-levels are out of date and believes a broader, more rounded education would better prepare students for their future careers.
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