Higginson (1988)

1988 Higginson Report (text)

The Higginson Report (1988)
Advancing A Levels

London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1988
Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.

Background notes

Gordon Higginson

Gordon Higginson (1929-2011) (pictured) was a graduate of Leeds University. He worked briefly for the Ministry of Supply before becoming a lecturer at Leeds in 1953. He was appointed to a chair in civil engineering at Durham in 1965 and remained there until he was appointed Vice-Chancellor of Southampton University in 1985.

He was influential on the physical sciences sub-committee of the University Grants Committee in the early 1980s, and in the 1990s he served as chair of the engineering board of the Science and Engineering Research Council. He was knighted in 1992.

The report

In March 1987 education secretary Kenneth Baker (together with the Welsh secretary) invited Higginson to chair a small committee with the following terms of reference:

In the light of the Government's commitment to retain General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced Level Examinations as an essential means for setting standards of excellence, and with the aim of maintaining or improving the present character and rigorous standards of these examinations:

To recommend the principles that should govern GCE A Level syllabuses and their assessment, so that consistency in the essential content and the assessment of subjects is secured:

To set out a plan of action for the subsequent detailed professional work required to give effect to these recommendations. (Higginson 1988:39).

The report was published in June 1988. Its proposals gained widespread approval but were famously rejected by Margaret Thatcher's government in favour of retaining the existing system of A Levels.

Summary of the report's main recommendations

Unlike many other reports, Higginson did not contain a list of numbered recommendations, but the thrust of the report was that the A Level system was too narrow and that students specialised too early. It recommended a broadening of the curriculum to become more like the French Baccalaureate with five subjects studied. The Committee commented:

We have recommended changes, mainly to increase rigour, motivation, breadth and flexibility, to improve teaching methods and to develop students' skills and attitudes. We have done so while preserving the essential nature of A levels (Higginson 1988:29).

The report online

The Higginson Report was published as a 51-page A4-size paperback. It is presented here in a single web page. Blank pages have been omitted.

The above notes were prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 4 March 2014.