England's secondary schools are to see the introduction of vocational diplomas for 14 to 19-year-old students.
The qualifications will be set at three levels and cover 14 work-related areas such as engineering and health and social care.
GCSEs and A-levels will remain but will be made much tougher while a separate diploma will recognise those who get the equivalent of five good GCSEs.
The proposals form ministers' response to ideas submitted by the government commissioned Tomlinson report.
What do you think of the government's proposals? Should there be a diploma covering all qualifications? How should the education system equip students with the skills they need and fairly judge them?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion received:
As a post-graduate and father of 4 teenage children, one currently at university, I am concerned about the boredom factor in our current educational approach. There is too much repetition, too much project work, with considerable emphasis on presentation (prepared on a PC) and not enough on conceptual development. Two of my friends are lecturers at the University of Manchester. They say that the current level of education attained at A level is below the minimum level of understanding they would like on entry to university; this level was attained in the past but is no more. As a result, the first year at university is spent catching up; this leaves just over 50% of the course time left for what they would regard as university work.
Lloyd Ruskin, Manchester
As someone who has taught under both A level and diploma systems, I can only tell you how heart breaking it is when a pupil simply can't get the Maths or French together and can't go on to University in the way you know they would in Britain where 3 subjects of their choice are OK. A diploma may lead to the majority passing (apparently unwelcome) but will lead to some of the elite failing.
Ian, Wroclaw, Poland Ex UK
The day the Government started to charge for University entrance was the day it was all dumbed down. Young people now see a degree as their 'right' especially if mummy and daddy are paying for it. As a result, students who can barely string a sentence together are now in Universities where they expect to pass because they 'have paid for it'. This is what the problem is. GCSE's are easy. A Levels less so - especially in the Sciences and Maths. As soon as you bring market forces into education, you are lost and standards go out of the window.
I taught and marked A and O level and now mark GCSE. In many ways the present exam is far more demanding, covers far more skills and material, and involves the student in far less rote learning. Similarly 50's A level questions merely demanded regurgitating notes or paraphrasing texts. Nowadays students must really have explored in depth each text and come to terms with it to produce a truly individual response. I believe to implement Tomlinson in full would have taken education into the 21st century, instead of looking back to a so-called Golden Age. What a chance has been missed!
C Kirkby, Tyneside UK
Educationalists should look to improving the existing standards. When awarding bodies admit that to achieve a grade C a pupil only has to obtain 22% this does nothing to help the career prospects of the pupil. Poor literacy and numeracy skills are commonplace. There are 100s of excellent learning providers delivering high quality vocational training to 16-24 year olds through the apprenticeship scheme. Schools should stop making denigratory remarks about the apprenticeship programme - a programme many 16 year olds would prefer to follow instead of staying within an educational environment.
Ron Attley, Winsford UK
It's the role of the education system that needs a change. Instead of teachers spoon feeding, pupils should do the resourcing and studying themselves (and learn how to learn) with the teachers acting more as tutors and guides. Assessment should take place as projects and essays on what they chose to study. This will enable those that have the ability/desire to learn to develop their knowledge to the level they wish and discourage those that rely on spoon feeding and memory. I'm sure this will prepare pupils far more for university, postgraduate studies and work.
We need to go back to the days when you got a grade and that showed exactly what you knew on that subject. For too long now exams have been dumbed down so no one can fail them so has not to make them feel left out. School is very simple, if you work hard there is every chance you will get what you deserve, if you do nothing you deserve nothing. An A grade should mean you are in the elite group and there should be nothing wrong with that. Labour's notion that there should not be elite, and to try to drag everybody else along regardless is wrong. People have different abilities and therefore the exam system should find this out, not give everyone a good grade and sent then on their way only to be found out as such when they get employment and cannot cope.
That's all we have got over the last 7 years. Tinkering with everything and never fixing anything. This is simply another half measure that lets our children down.
T J Newman, Bournemouth, UK
I am currently completing my education at a top UK university, having obtained the International Baccalaureate diploma (in the UK) instead of A-levels previously. The IB is a broader programme, involving six subjects, a major research essay, an extra-curricular component and internationally standardised syllabi. In many cases, I found myself better prepared for university-level education than my friends who did three A-levels, perhaps in subjects less related to their chosen degree.
Martin Aspeli, London
Never underestimate the arrogance of a politician. They ignore the advice of the experts because they think they know better. As usual, they have forgotten they are announcing the policy decisions. It is the teachers who must put this into effect against their own advice. What hope is there for this country with the arrogance of politicians of all parties? Once again education suffers from politicians who don't know the difference between arithmetic and mathematics or literature and reading.
Wayne Haris, Wotton-under-edge, Glos
It's about time that this Government stops thinking that it knows more than teachers about how to teach. Its interference has meant that achieving targets is more important than education. Teachers should be allowed to teach, not tick boxes.
Paul, Basingstoke, England
I am a teacher and I think the latest version of A-levels and GCSE are very good for the more able. I just want to see better vocational options for the less able and I am hopeful that these Government suggestions will provide them. I am glad the Minister has decided not to ruin the parts of the system that work but is instead focussing on the broken parts.
Luke Magee, Wales
As a secondary headteacher, I'm interested to see that Kelly intends to make a five subject diploma which must include English and maths the new performance tables 'benchmark'. I wonder if the government realises that this will inevitably lead to a fall in the average performance level, as many of those pupils at present achieving 5A*-C grades do not have one, or other or both English and maths. An interesting implication for whichever party is in power when this happens!
With the pass rate of the current A-level set at such a low mark, they make this exam worthless. The government has let the students, parents and employers down by dumbing down the exams.
Bumble, Dartford, Kent
I'm surprised that the government has missed the opportunity, presented by Tomlinson, to reset all the baselines and commence another twenty-year run of continuous improvement in standards of educational achievement.
Simon Snodgrass, Colchester UK
Once again politicians have decided to ignore expert advice and to do what suits the politicians. We will all be the poorer for it. The long term benefits have been ignored because of short term political expediency. The UK needs leaders with more integrity and professionalism, not self interest.
David, Woking, UK
When you hear that students achieve 12A* grades at GCSE and yet those same type of students could not get equitable grades under the old O -level system you know the present system stinks. Bring the exams to the standard they were thirty years ago but also reinforce more vocational subjects to help those who will never, ever be academic but enhance pride in to them because we all need bricklayers, carpenters and electricians far more than we need philosophers and psychologists.
Rosalind Mercer, Bedford
Yes, I think it is time the old fashioned GCSEs and A-levels were scrapped and replaced by something along the lines of the International Baccalaureate. We need a much broader based, pupil-centred syllabus which focuses on acquisition of skills. It would prepare children better for their future lives.
Alice Green, Maidenhead, Berkshire
No! The proposal to scrap A-Levels and GCSE's makes sense to me. Employers need relevant qualifications and unfortunately many GCSE's and A-Levels don't give and at and relevant vocational qualifications are seen by many as second class studies. GCSE's, A-levels and vocational qualifications need to be brought into line. It is a shame the government has lost it nerve on this.
Mick, Blackburn, Lancs
I thought we already had a kind of vocational qualification - NVQs and GNVQs. Why can't these be adapted to cover a wider variety of vocations?
Aimee, Oxford, UK
I work for a very large City based Investment Bank. Part of my role is interviewing graduates for investment banking jobs of for internship (summer employment). The review of qualifications generally goes like this "4 A's at A-level, yawn", "10 A's at GCSE yawn again" as everyone has top qualifications. I see the quality of the work done by straight A candidates at "top" universities and that, if nothing else, tells me that our entire educational system is dumbed down and required root and branch reform not qualifications in hairdressing.
Mike, Brighton, UK
Certainly a step in the right direction at last. Education was completely disregarded in the 1980's and 90's under Tory rule. 'New' Labour still have a lot of work to do to put things right. Most humans waste most of their intellect on the abstract concept that is money. Maybe if we re-evaluate what is actually important we can start to get back on track towards a more educated and consequently more civilised world.
KC, Aberdeen, Scotland, UK
When will people open their eyes and realise how bizarre it is to give central government control over things like this? Schools should be run by headmasters, not politicians. If a headmaster wants to scrap A-levels, then let him; he's the expert. There are plenty of alternatives already available, e.g. the International Baccalaureate.
There still needs to be some form of examination system and the basic concept of GCSE and A-level is not wrong, provided that the qualification obtained is meaningful and not just a piece of paper obtained for "sitting an exam". However, the problem occurs that there is too much choice and the available subjects should be reduced considerably to cover only the essentials e.g. science, mathematics, language etc so that these can have greater depth in teaching.
Tim, Derby, UK
Make A-levels more stretching!?! It has clearly been a long time since Ruth Kelly spoke to students. As a Year 13 pupil (and not one particularly struggling), I can tell her that A-levels are as stretching as they need to be, without any politicians interfering.
Emily Martin, 18, Hungerford, Berkshire
It appears that every time the politicians "improve" education, it gets worse! Why can't they leave it alone for a while? Or, take a step back and reintroduce exams that actually signified something rather than the "everyone must win, all must have prizes" "Alice in Wonderland" approach, from which we suffer at present?
Jeff, Telford, UK
A missed opportunity. Mike Tomlinson's report is the way ahead but it is too much of a risk in this pre-election phase. Just another illustration of what politicians really care about.
Pat Brockman, Hagley, West Midlands
This is another attempt to re-introduce the failed 'comprehensive' system. It's the Alice-in-Wonderland notion that everyone shall win. And anyone who opposes it is branded 'an elitist'. These levellers have already destroyed the value of GCSEs and undermined the 'A' level and the undergraduate degree. What they need to do is "level up" (sic) the quality of vocational qualifications, not "level down" everything else.
Stephen Clarke, Shropshire
Tomlinson is a clown. What employers require is the ability to measure whether someone has achieved an acceptable level of proficiency against that required for the job. We set that level, because we know what is required. We do not need to know how that level relates to other skills, nor indeed how that level of proficiency relates to someone applying for a different type of job. The sooner the exam system (in fact better still, the entire education system) is removed from political control, the better.
Andy, Portsmouth, UK
One system has as many good points and bad points as any other system. Governments should stop trying to LOOK like they're improving things (through studies and reviews) and instead stump up the resources needed to get the existing system to work as it was intended!
It will make no difference either way, the education system is being made more and more politically correct so no-one can fail, every day. It doesn't matter what the exams are called but make the possibility of failing a real one, then students will start to learn the reality of life after school.
Leaving the exam system as it is puts UK students at a disadvantage to almost every other EU and international country. If you say you have GSCEs and A-levels to any employer from outside the UK, they have no idea what they mean. A diploma they understand.
Alex, Bath, UK
Alex, Bath, UK. However the vast majority of British school-leavers are trying to get jobs in Britain, where we do know what an A level is. Scrapping them to suit some European is barmy, although totally in keeping with everything else this government seems to do.
Stop wasting millions and millions of pounds of taxpayers' money with so many endless changes. How can a system survive when it is turned on its head constantly and surely it is possible to have one standard and stick to it for a period of say 10 years and then review it? Why not spend the extra on teaching staff pay rises instead of meddling with the system, then maybe all sides can be more positive?
Lance, London, England
I think the proposals on making the GCSE and A level exams harder is ridiculous. I am in my first year of university at Derby and have worked hard to get here. I think that the 'AS' level exams should be scrapped as currently students have three years of constant exams with mock exams and then the real ones. Students are put under too much pressure with the current system.
Andrew Nairn, Derby. England
The government's decision dismays me. What is the point in commissioning these reports if they don't take any notice of them?
Andrew Britton, Canterbury, Kent
Having done my schooling in Australia the whole education system over here appears to be very basic. Not only does the Australian schooling system have passes and fails - it also offers grades, percentages and an explanation of your ability in relation to the grade you are given. I highly doubt there would be any great loss as a result of "scrapping" the UK exam system - if you ask me it's a totally primitive method of justifying someone's intelligence.
There has already been too much destructive and disruptive reforms in recent years. There was never anything wrong with 'O' and 'A' levels. The problem was and still is the lack of vocational qualifications in school for non-academic pupils. All we have done is dumb down the entire system so the non-academics are not left out.
Ian, Bradford UK
GCSEs and A-levels are far too easy. You are effectively spoon-fed information to pass your exams. When you get to a good university and study a practical subject, only then do you start learning.
Along with this is the proposal to keep students in school until they are 18, so where do the extra staff come from and the money to build extensions onto most secondary schools to accommodate them?
I employ school leavers in my company and also assist a number of organisations with their recruitment and development programmes. The problem with the current system is that it does not provide sufficient feedback to enable suitable choices to be made, just about everyone "passes". We need a system that provides more differentiation, one which will highlight the top 10% or 25%. I don't really care what you call it but please let us have something we can use. Currently all we can do is get applicants to take our test to decide if there is a future for them with us.
Terry, Epsom, Surrey, England
Tomlinson knew what he was talking about when he made the report. GCSEs and A-levels are not a fair judge - as business leaders have been saying.
Jeffrey Lake, London, UK
The whole system of qualifications has been dumbed down so much, who cares anymore? In the current climate of equality everyone can have a degree - it's almost their 'right'.
Tom, Ipswich, UK
No, I wouldn't scrap them but I would make them meaningful again. It is too easy to get a pass mark now. Employers no longer view a pass grade as meaningful. Bring back the way of granting grades which meant the top 'x' percent got A's, the next 'x' percent got B's and so on. This way you have limited pass marks and thus encourages people to strive harder. Obviously, this will mean a floating pass mark depending on everyone else who sits the same exam but this will sort out the 'top students' from the rest. Maybe then we will start to regard pass marks as meaningful and the top universities will really get the best students.
Karen Smith, London, UK