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Proposals along the qualifications route

In the course of outlining his new qualifications structure, Sir Ron journeys into a number of associated areas, throwing out recommendations as he travels.

Concerned about declining standards in mental arithmetic, he says that GCSE certificates should publish a separate grade for calculation, estimation and statistics. This would go alongside the proposal by the Education Secretary to give a separate grading for spoken English at GCSE. Sir Ron also recommends the creation of a new GCSE course in "additional mathematics" limited to grades A*-C.

He tackles doubt about standards in A-level by asking exam boards to ensure that arts courses are stiffened up to the same average level as maths and science courses. This is in part to make the technical subjects more attractive. He also asks the boards to set up better archives and to cut down the number of syllabus options to help them monitor comparative standards over time.

Still on comparability, he recommends that schools have a formal procedure for changing exam boards to prevent willy-nilly fluctuation in the search for better grades.

Modular A-levels, while very popular, have raised doubts. Sir Ron says that the final exam in such courses should account for at least 30 per cent of the marks. There should be a limit to the number of resits of modules allowed. He also wants a common timetable for modular exams to help schools organise complex schedules.

The attempt to bring academic and vocational pathways closer together leads Dearing to recommend a change in the existing quangos. He proposes either a straight merger of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications with the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority; or the setting up of a new National Qualifications Authority to deal with all post-14 exam courses.

Sir Ron is disappointed with the current state of the National Record of Achievement, which was introduced in 1991 to help students record and plan their progress. He says it is little understood, despite its potential, and recommends that it be relaunched with the support of Government and employers.

The report concentrates for the most part on underachievement. But it also suggests rehabilitating the S (Special) level for gifted students to stretch them further. This should be done by allowing the papers to count towards the points scores for university entrance. He also encourages the brightest sixth-formers to undertake small chunks of university degree work.

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