Students may have to pass key subjects to go to university (Image: Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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School leavers could be barred from going to university if they haven't passed their English and Maths GCSEs, Gavin Williamson has said.

The Education Secretary said he couldn’t understand why entry requirements for degrees would be lowered for pupils who failed to pass key subjects.

He also called for an end to the "unacceptable" lowering of literacy standards in degree assessments.

In a speech to the Higher Education Policy Institute conference, Mr Williamson said: “We expect the same rigour in admissions as we do in every other aspect of higher education.

“Is it really in anyone’s interest if entry requirements are relaxed so much that an 18-year-old who has not yet passed their English or maths GCSEs should progress straight to an honours degree?

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said literacy standards must not be watered down
(Image: PA)

"We have to make sure that those with an ability can go to university, if they have the desire and application to do so as long as they can prove that they are up to it."

It comes after the Office for Students (OfS) mounted a probe into “inclusive” assessment practices that disregard poor spelling, punctuation and grammar as it warned it would be “patronising” to expect lower standards from certain groups of students.

Mr Williamson said: "I want to be clear that certain practices such as lowering of literacy standards in degree assessments are unacceptable and must come to an end.

"If a graduate begins a job without basic literacy this serves no-one, not them, not their peers, not the employer, and not the nation. It undermines the value of a British honours degree.

"High standards are the bedrock of which our university's reputation rests, and they must be maintained."

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In January, the Government announced in its long-awaited interim response to the Augar review of higher education that minimum entry requirements to universities will be considered.

"This is obviously something that we're going to be consulting on in terms of minimum entry requirements, but I do think there has to be a very real question as to whether that is the right sort of progression and the right sort of route," the Education Secretary added.

Elsewhere, Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman warned that schools are having to tackle a new "confrontational brand of activism" which can have a "limiting effect" on children's education.

Ms Spielman, England's chief schools inspector, said it was "unacceptable" that some pupils and teachers are suffering abuse and violence "simply for being who they are" amid a rise in activism both inside and outside schools.

The Ofsted chief has said children should not be "all but forced to support a fellow student's campaign, no matter how compellingly presented, nor feel that they will be ostracised if they do not".

Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman warned against a 'confrontational brand of activism'
(Image: Sky News)

In a speech to the Festival of Education, Ms Spielman said: "This is a difficult problem for schools. So much effort goes into encouraging young people to understand and think about their democratic rights, which of course include the right to protest and to campaign for what they believe in.

"But education must come first. And no child should ever feel targeted or marginalised because intolerance has replaced reasoned debate."

The chief inspector added: "Let's not have teachers policed by self-appointed 'moral guardians' who refuse to tolerate an alternative viewpoint.

"Or harried on social media into apologising for what they've said, or into changing the way they teach, in the face of militant activism."

Her comments come after protests were held outside Batley Grammar School in March after a teacher showed Year 9 pupils a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed during a Religious Studies (RS) lesson.

In 2019, some primary schools in Birmingham faced protests at the school gates from parents who opposed allowing children to be taught about the existence of LGBT+ relationships.