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The Mr Fixit who 'lost his nerve'

Scottish further education leaders have accused Sir Ron Dearing of losing his nerve and stopping short of their country's example in his proposals for reforming 16 to 19 qualifications.

The Government's curriculum "Mr Fixit" who published a package of recommendations last week should have gone further to bring the English and Welsh system in line with its Scottish equivalent by doing away with separate academic and vocational pathways, principals say.

Instead, they believe, he "lost courage" and bowed to strong pressures from Conservative traditionalists to maintain the A-level "gold standard", missing a chance to establish comparable structures on both sides of the border.

The Scottish reaction echoes regret expressed by many that Sir Ron failed to seize the chance fully to modularise the curriculum and abolish exclusively academic and vocational qualifications to solve the problem of achieving parity of esteem.

The Scots have led the way in Britain in qualification reform. Their Higher Still programme for unifying upper secondary education, due to be implemented in 1998, will create a fully modular system, under which separate academic and vocational qualifications will be replaced by a single qualification offered at different levels.

The new diploma and certificates proposed by Sir Ron will simply run alongside existing qualifications and will remain voluntary extras.

John Sellars, chief officer of the Association of Scottish Colleges, was backed by many principals in his view that only the Scots had the chance of achieving parity of esteem. He said: "I believe in his heart of hearts Sir Ron probably wanted to go further. It's a pity he didn't go that extra mile to create something really radical."

Terry Davies, principal of James Watt College of Further and Higher Education, said: "I think the change towards merging the pathways is something the English must persist at."

In England, the lecturers' union NATFHE and leading organisations representing the 14-19 sector also expressed disappointment that the new qualifications are to be voluntary.

Training and enterprise councils welcomed Sir Ron's emphasis on "key skills" including communication and numeracy as a step towards meeting employers' needs, but called for more consultation into a proposed shake-up of Youth Training. The TEC National Council warned a scheme for replacing the current structure with National Traineeships could "restrict the reach and attractiveness" of the schemes, rather than extending them.

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