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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 February, 2004, 17:50 GMT
GCSEs and A-levels 'to be replaced'
exam room
The idea of a diploma has circulated for some time
A top level review of the exams system in England is proposing a new four-tier diploma, to replace GCSEs and A-levels.

Students would also be able to take exams earlier or later rather than at fixed ages as is the case now.

The change might allow bright schoolchildren to begin university degrees at the age of 16.

The review has been carried out by the former chief inspector of schools, Mike Tomlinson, and is out on Tuesday.

The diploma would have four levels - advanced, intermediate, foundation and entry level - in order to include the achievements of all pupils, BBC education correspondent Mike Baker said.

The Russian Federation is embarking on a wholesale reform of its end-of-school exams and university admissions
Mike Baker
BBC education correspondent

GCSEs and A-levels would not completely disappear, at least in the short or medium term, but would become component parts of the diploma rather than stand-alone qualifications.

Vocational qualifications and extra-curricular activities would also go towards the diploma.

Mr Tomlinson said: "The working group was set up to tackle a number of long-standing weaknesses.

"These include low post-16 participation and achievement, overburdensome curriculum and assessment system and a vocational framework so varied that employers and Higher Education find it difficult to understand.

"Our proposals will build on the strength of the current system and maintain rigour."

Also proposed in the report is the option for students to bypass AS-levels and go straight to A-level if they want.

A system similar to the French baccalaureate where pupils take a number of subjects for a diploma has been mooted for some time.

The Secondary Heads' Association general secretary John Dunford said a diploma system will help students stick with education longer.

"That raising of the participation rate and raising of the success rate of 17 and 18 year olds is very important in bringing us up to the level of other countries."

Grading examination

This week's consultation document will be followed by a final report later in the year.

One of the other major parts of the review will be an examination of the grading procedure for A-level, following criticism.

Some universities have said they were finding it necessary to distinguish between A-grade candidates by further tests or exams for courses such as law or medicine.

But despite speculation about plans to sub-divide A-level grades, along the lines of A1 and A2 and B1 and B2, the report is understood not to contain any such suggestions.


The report will also say there should be less emphasis on coursework but will suggest an extended essay as part of the diploma.

A former chief inspector of schools in England, Chris Woodhead, told BBC News 24 while he supported some aspects of the report it was questionable whether the "huge upheaval" teachers, pupils, employers and universities would have to undergo to understand was worth it.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "We are in the last chance saloon for reform of the 14- to 19-year-old exam system.

"If we do not get it right as a result of the Tomlinson report then I think it will be a disaster for the future of the exam system."

The BBC's James Westhead
"Headteachers welcomed the idea"

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