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Last Updated: Monday, 18 October, 2004, 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK
Universities welcome diploma plans
classroom scene
Teachers are concerned at more upheaval and greater workload
Universities and head teachers in both the independent and state sectors have welcomed plans for a new secondary school diploma system in England.

The final report of the Tomlinson working party on 14 to 19 learning was published on Monday.

Ministers want any reforms to stretch the most able students, provide high-quality vocational education, reduce the burden of assessment and encourage more youngsters to "stay on" after the age of 16.

They are expected to make a holding statement, promising a full response later.

'Broad consensus'

The umbrella group Universities UK said the recommendations would help in widening access to higher education, as well as in selection.

Ivor Crewe
Ivor Crewe: Universities UK welcomes the Tomlinson report
As more and more sixth form students have been getting grade As, university admissions staff have been complaining of the difficulty of picking out the very best students.

"The proposals offer the opportunity for universities to draw from a wider pool of well qualified candidates from all sections of society," said Universities UK president Ivor Crewe.

"The report has also tackled the difficult problem of how universities can differentiate between the most able candidates, which has been a growing concern."

And the Higher Education Union, AUT, said the proposals were "a positive contribution to the reform of school qualifications" and would lead to "the false divide between vocational and academic subjects" being broken down.

Head teachers urged the government to set about implementing the proposals.

"What I want from the government is strong support for the Tomlinson report - I don't want any fudge," said David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers.

Current system well-respected and gives youngsters many choices, but ...
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"The government would be making a fundamental mistake if it did not give a strong signal that it supported the main thrust of the report and that it would work with everybody concerned to implement those reforms."

The general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, said: "Tomlinson has developed a broad consensus around his proposals and I would hope that all political parties would include implementation of his report in their manifestos for the next election."

Independent sector approval

Mr Tomlinson has also succeeded in pleasing head teachers in the independent school sector, with the Independent Schools Council welcoming the report as "a blueprint which addresses major issues in the nation's education provision but builds on what is best".

"We are particularly pleased that the standards represented by current A-levels will be preserved in the components of the advanced diploma and indeed will be strengthened by the incorporation of the Advanced Extension Award, allowing the most able to show their full potential," the council's response said.

"It is gratifying that the working party heeded not only our call for a significant reduction in coursework and the overall assessment burden, but also the preservation of subject choice at advanced level.

Ten years to implement

Mike Tomlinson - the former chief inspector of England's schools - has said he expects the changes to take eight to 10 years to implement.

He has said he is not offering the Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, "an oven-ready package which, with a click of his fingers, he could implement from day one".

I would hope that all political parties would include implementation of his report in their manifestos
John Dunford
Secondary Heads Association
He wants there to be extensive piloting. This concern relates in particular to the rushed Curriculum 2000 reforms, which led to Mr Tomlinson's emergency review of A-level grading in 2002.

It looked like the report would point "in the right direction", with "a more coherent qualifications system with fewer external examinations and greater esteem for vocational qualifications".

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) welcomed the report, saying it made "a compelling case for change".

"More 14 to 19-year-olds must remain in education and their levels of achievement must rise if future generations are to succeed in the challenging world of the 21st century," Ken Boston, QCA chief executive.

"The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has contributed a significant amount of advice, expertise and knowledge to the working group over the past two years. The proposals build on strong foundations. In this country we already have qualifications that are recognised internationally as world class."


The Conservative education spokesman, Tim Collins, said his party broadly supported some of what was being proposed.

Once you have said A-levels and GCSEs are dead, they are dead in the water
Professor Chris Woodhead
But it has also come up with some major alternatives which do not seem to fit with Tomlinson's ideas, including quotas for top A-level grades, external assessment at the age of 16 and letting schools offer O-levels if they wish.

The general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Steve Sinnott, said post-16 examinations "have faced almost continuous upheaval" since 1997.

"The 'Curriculum 2000' reforms were controversial, resulting from an uneasy compromise by the new Labour government between A-levels and more radical reforms."

AS and A2 qualifications had been introduced without piloting, and without evaluation of the costs.

"We soon saw the problems and confusion these failures caused," he said.

The Royal Society, the UK academy of science, said the report failed to spell out a clear commitment to science.

"The Royal Society is calling on the Government to clarify urgently its own commitment to science education," said vice-president Sir John Enderby.


The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) repeated that it was not convinced there would be improved levels of literacy and numeracy.

And the changes could even divert energy away from the urgent task of raising standards in these basic skills, it said.

Mike Tomlinson's predecessor as chief schools inspector, Chris Woodhead, said there was no need for such a "massive upheaval".

"Once you have said A-levels and GCSEs are dead, they are dead in the water and you can't protract their death over a decade, " he said.

They should instead be kept but made more academically rigorous so that they stretched the most able.

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