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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 December 2005, 12:06 GMT
New exams for 'functional skills'
By Gary Eason
Education editor, BBC News website

school computer room
Ministers rule out skills tests - but propose new ones
The government has said it expects all secondary school students in England to master the basics of English and maths.

So its new test of school performance will be the percentage attaining at least five GCSE-level qualifications, including English and maths GCSEs.

It has decided not to use available skills tests, which it had told schools might be acceptable.

But it has acknowledged shortcomings in GCSEs by proposing totally new qualifications to cover basic skills.

Alternative proposals

Those shortcomings were highlighted by Sir Mike Tomlinson in his report on 14 to 19 learning.

He said the structure of existing GCSEs meant someone could achieve a grade C without having "functional" literacy or numeracy skills of the kind employers want.

So GCSEs were not a suitable test of having mastered the basics, he said.

Instead, he proposed that pupils would have to take a "core skills" test in three subject areas: literacy, maths and information and communication technology.

In response the government said it would put English and maths "at the heart" of its strategy.

New diplomas

It told schools it would consult them on two ways of showing attainment in these subjects in the annual league tables: either GCSEs or Key Skills / Basic Skills tests, which it would pilot in this year's tables, due in January.

But it has now announced, without waiting for the outcome of the pilot, that only GCSEs will suffice. They will be reported in the league tables from next year.

But at the same time it has said new "functional skills specialised diplomas" will be developed to cover the basics.

The department says these "will be incorporated within the new specialised diplomas and within GCSEs in English, maths and ICT - so that passing these functional skills qualifications will be a requirement for achieving a C or better".

The functional skills diplomas will be piloted nationally from 2007.

"Every young person will be expected to master the basics," says the implementation plan for its 14 to 19 reforms.

Within its wider changes, youngsters would have a choice of learning routes - general or specialised.

Fourteen specialised diplomas, at three levels, will be employer-led, covering the main occupational sectors of the economy.

"They will often contain GCSEs and A-levels within them," the plan says.

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