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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 February, 2004, 11:03 GMT
Devolved education's separate paths
Exam hall
Exam systems within the UK are moving further apart

The shake-up of qualifications in England will see the four devolved education systems in the United Kingdom moving further away from a common system.

In Wales, there are already moves towards a distinctive "Welsh baccalaureate" and the proposals from Mike Tomlinson's review will see a new exam landscape, away from the GCSEs and A-levels.

The Welsh baccalaureate, currently being piloted in 18 schools and colleges, provides a diploma-style structure, with an over-arching qualification being built up from individual subjects and skills.

Even though both England and Wales are exploring the idea of a diploma - this comes within a bigger picture of ever-greater divergence.

While Scotland's education system has always operated differently from England - it used to be the case that secondary level exams in England, Wales and Northern Ireland could be broadly described as similar.

National culture

But such broad-brush generalisations will soon no longer be possible.

If the diploma plans go ahead in England and Wales they are likely to be very different in their detail - and already the proposals in Wales pay particular attention to their nation's history, culture and place in Europe.

And if Wales and England shift to diplomas, and Northern Ireland retains a system of stand-alone exams, such as GCSEs and A-levels, then the three systems will be drifting further apart.

This could mean a very diverse landscape for school leavers within the UK in the years ahead - with youngsters from the four education systems leaving with different types of qualifications which are known by different names.


This need not necessarily mean a recipe for confusion - because the differences between qualifications in England and Scotland are currently accepted by employers and universities.

Under the proposals being piloted in Wales, pupils will have a set of core subjects, which they can supplement with other options. This combination of core and optional subjects - at intermediate and advanced level - represents the "Welsh bac diploma".

This can either be achieved through traditional academic qualifications, such as A-levels, or else it might follow a vocational path - as an important aim is to give more status to vocational qualifications.

The pilot stage will continue until the end of next year - and then in 2006, the Welsh Assembly will decide whether it should be extended across the country.

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