Diploma battle looms

Headteachers are squaring up for a battle with Ruth Kelly, the new English Education Secretary, over proposals for the biggest changes to secondary education for more than 50 years.

A snapshot end-of-term TES poll of 102 secondary heads reveals that seven out of 10 want to see GCSEs and A-levels replaced by the diploma framework proposed by Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector.

Tony Blair insisted in October that the exams would remain despite the report's proposal that they be replaced by an over-arching diploma.

Ministers are also nervous about the radical recommendation that most youngsters should not take traditional, externally-assessed exams until the age of 18.

In Wales, A-levels and revised GCSEs remain a fixture of 14-19 reforms intended to offer a wider range of vocational and work-based options for teenagers.

But education and lifelong learning minister, Jane Davidson, has said the Welsh Baccalaureate, currently in its second pilot year, may need to be adapted in response to decisions taken by the Westminster government about the Tomlinson report in England.

Tomlinson is the most important item in Ms Kelly's in-tray and she has already been briefed by civil servants anxious that the timetable for the publication of the White Paper does not slip.

The TES poll shows that given three options - retaining the current system, a compromise in which the names A-level and GCSE are kept, or going for the Tomlinson diploma in full, 60 per cent favoured the latter. Only 15 per cent opted for the status quo, while 20 per cent went for the compromise option, which the Government appears to favour. The poll was conducted over the past week.

Charles Clarke, Ms Kelly's predecessor, said league tables and external exams at 16 would stay.

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