Diploma system proposed as replacement for GCSEs and A-levels

GCSE and A-Level exams could disappear, to be replaced by a tiered secondary school diploma system, under reform proposals published today.

According to the Working Group for 14-19 Reform, chaired by former chief inspector of schools Mike Tomlinson, the diploma system could ensure that students develop "essential skills" for later life – with the focus on communication, team-working, ICT and mathematical skills.

The group, which was set up over concerns that the current system led to low educational participation for post-GCSE teens and a fragmented framework of vocational qualifications, published its interim report today. Its final report is expected to be presented to the government in September.

Martin Ward, Deputy General Secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, welcomed the Tomlinson report, saying that many of the recommendations were "very close to the long-held views of SHA".

He said: "The proposed system will give universities and employers more and better information but it will be essential for the government to support the proposals and ensure that the diplomas are used for recruitment."

Mr Ward said that the four-tier, pre and post-16 diploma structure would bring "coherence and unity" to today's "complicated" list of qualifications. The diploma will also give a much-needed boost to vocational qualifications, which have been regarded as second best for far too long, he added.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Secretary, Phil Willis, said that the proposals would allow for a "joined-up approach to learning" between vocational and academic study.

Mr Willis said: "Job focused learning must become as attractive as more traditional study. Work-based training must go hand-in-hand with core skills development to create qualifications, which are relevant in the employment market."

Tory Shadow Education Secretary Tim Collins gave a cautious welcome to the proposals, saying the reduction in coursework and the independent assessment of literacy and numeracy would be beneficial.

However, he warned: "The government must ensure that the diploma is not simply used as a vehicle for shoe-horning more young people into university.

"There has been a lot of turmoil in assessments in recent years, and employers, teachers and pupils must be increasingly dizzied by the changes."

Currently, half of young people still do not achieve five good GCSEs at school, and one-in-20 pupils leaves school without a single GCSE pass. For participation at age 17, a 2001 survey ranked the UK 27 out of 30 OECD countries, with 73% in education.

Since the 1970s there have been numerous initiatives aimed at reforming 14-19, but most have resulted in "piecemeal change", the Working Group said.

One of the most persistent shortcomings of the education system, the education department said, was the weakness in vocational courses. Learning a trade has still to become a truly valued option, the department said.


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