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A-levels scrapped in blueprint for future

Secondary education overhaul could mean single diploma system, report Warwick Mansell and Ian Nash.

A radical blueprint for action to be published by the Government's task force on 14 to 19 qualifications would all but abolish A-levels and GCSEs.

The taskforce will outline a new baccalaureate-type diploma to replace free-standing A-levels, GCSEs and vocational awards next month.

Mike Tomlinson, former chief inspector of schools and chair of the group, insisted this week that there would be no room for them. He told The TES:

"If the baccalaureate is to be valued, it must be a qualification in its own right. There cannot be free-standing qualifications within it. We are not yet in a position to make recommendations, but if you want the bac, these are the consequences."

The proposals include a compulsory core, scope for specialising, optional studies and a record of extra-curricular achievements (see box, right).

The model is set out in the first paper to be presented by the 15-member taskforce since it began its 15-month inquiry in March. Its publication will trigger a major consultation exercise over the summer.

It also calls for drastic simplification of the qualifications structure, cutting the number of vocational qualifications. The group also wants big cuts in the number of tests and exams.

Mr Tomlinson said: "For example, it is nonsense to have someone doing eight separate pieces of assessed coursework for their GCSEs, when just two pieces, testing across the curriculum, might be more appropriate."

The taskforce's overriding goal is to make the qualifications structure more coherent, with the aim of cutting the post-16 drop-out rate, which is among the highest in the developed world.

Mr Tomlinson is concerned that students who fail to get five good grades at GCSE do not have a learning "pathway" available to them. The new structure would introduce a single learning phase from 14-19, with three or four levels, which students would complete when they were ready.

Nor do those who quit early get credit for what they have achieved. "While cutting high drop-out rates, we must also address this," he said. "Some young people will want stepping stones, others will want to cash in their credits for a qualification before 19."

Some units within the new structure would be more demanding than the current A-level. Also, plans by exams regulator Ken Boston for GCSEs to be broken down into smaller "units", allowing students to specialise, would fit with the new structure.

"Baccalaureate" is being used as a shorthand for the proposed diploma, but Mr Tomlinson said the group would not necessarily be calling it this name.

"It has wider political connotations that could prove unhelpful. It is also associated with the international baccalaureate, which is not the model envisaged."

His group's recommendations also have implications for reform of assessment at key stage 3, he said. "At present, if you don't make the grade at 14, you are unlikely to make the GCSE. We need continuous internal assessment up to 14."

The paper will advocate much greater collaboration between schools and colleges. Mr Tomlinson wants ministers to consider publishing league tables on an area-wide basis, embracing several schools and colleges.

The paper is to be published in July. The changes are forecast for the end of the decade.

FE Focus, 31


* Core curriculum: literacy, numeracy and information and communications technology, plus "soft skills" valued by employers, such as team-working and interpersonal skills.

* Specialist studies: academic, technical or vocational programmes (all of which would be part of an over-arching diploma, or baccalaureate).

* Further specialist programmes: for example, statistics for historians and geographers and modern languages for those doing business studies.

* Extra curricular: community service, Duke of Edinburgh award schemes and acheivement in sport and the arts.

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