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Last Updated: Monday, 9 August, 2004, 09:16 GMT 10:16 UK
Firms 'sceptical' of diploma plan
A diploma framework could replace A-levels and GCSEs
Business leaders doubt whether plans to replace A-levels and GCSEs with a diploma will improve education in England, a survey shows.

The Confederation of British Industry said it was "sceptical" this would raise standards in English and maths.

A government-appointed review says all students should gain the equivalent of GCSE grade C in these subjects if they want to pass the diploma.

But 83% of CBI members said changes might distract from raising standards.

'Not yet convinced'

Nearly six out of 10 bosses thought it was more important to improve teaching standards and tackle the shortage of well-qualified teachers in subjects such as English and maths.

Meanwhile, 56% believed increasing industry-related Modern Apprenticeships was more vital than changing the qualifications system.

The government's Working Group on 14-19 Reform, chaired by Mike Tomlinson, says a diploma system would allow universities and employers to single out the highest academic achievers.

This is something A-levels are accused of failing to do.

But, within the diploma, it was also important all children gained a grasp of the "the three Rs".

In his interim report published in February, Mr Tomlinson, the former chief schools inspector for England, said young people would have to show they had the skills needed for the modern world, such as the ability to work well on their own and with others.

The third element of the diploma, the "main learning", would enable them to combine a wider range of subjects than at present, from purely academic to job-related vocational courses.

Mike Tomlinson
Mike Tomlinson denied trying to introduce "prizes for all"

The CBI said the diploma would have to satisfy six tests.

It would need a strategy for improving young people's literacy and numeracy, show how the status of vocational education would be raised and be more challenging for the brightest.

The diploma's grade structure would also have to give employers a clear picture of what prospective employees knew and could do.

Bosses needed to know how much the diploma would cost to bring in and Mr Tomlinson would have to "prove beyond doubt that none of the above aims could be achieved within the existing qualifications framework".

Only a fifth of CBI members said replacing the existing exams was their top priority.

Some were suspicious that a "rewards for all" mentality lay behind it.

CBI deputy director-general John Cridland said businesses were "not yet convinced that vital improvements to basic and key skills can be delivered at the same time as radical reform of qualifications towards an overall diploma".

Mr Tomlinson denied a "prizes-for-all" approach, adding: "Each of the elements would have a threshold of achievement, which if you didn't meet, you wouldn't get them."

The working group's final report will be presented to the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, in October.

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