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A rare outbreak of harmony

Sir Ron Dearing's review has been welcomed with a certain amount of smug satisfaction from both unions and the Opposition as his proposals largely reflect their own.

John Dunford, president-elect of the Secondary Heads Association, was "delighted as it is very much in line with what we have been recommending". "We are particularly pleased that he is blending the academic and vocational together; indeed we want to see the abolition of those two words," he said.

His only fear was that the review was confined to 16 to 19 rather than 14 to 19. "We hope his final report will reflect these important principles back into key stage 4."

Mr Dunford was among those who reckoned that the merger of the education and employment departments would "open doors for Sir Ron and as a result his final report could be even more radical".

The National Association of Head Teachers agreed. George Varnava, its president, welcomed the rationalisation of qualifications, but also stressed the need to look at the 14 to 19 range and "to develop a learning ethos which goes beyond learning for the sake of employment".

Speaking for the Association of Principals of Sixth Form Colleges, Dennis Lavelle, principal of Winstanley College, said the review was "very exciting - he has pressed all the right buttons here. He has put everything in that we put in our submission - and more." He was pleased that Sir Ron was planning to tackle funding and consult students. Like SHA, he welcomed the use of the AS- level as an intermediate qualification, but his members would not want it to be a substitute for a fully modular system.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers "strongly supported" the consultative style of Sir Ron's approach and the proposed research into the causes of wastage and non-completion rates.

Gwen Evans, deputy general secretary, said the ATL believed that a portfolio approach, allowing students to combine academic and vocational courses, would give Britain the best chance of producing the well-qualified, scientifically literate workforce of the future.

Ruth Gee, chief executive of the Association for Colleges, liked the fact that Sir Ron had identified the problem of 16 to 19 education as being intelligible only to specialists. "If he can solve that he's making the biggest single contribution to further education this century Industry was also complimentary. The CBI's director of education and training, Tony Webb, thought it "very positive" in identifying the issues which need to be tackled to achieve a smooth transition from education and training to the world of work. "We recognise there's a responsibility on business to achieve the goals the report sets."

The Labour party could hardly contain its glee. "The Government has executed an important U-turn on the 16 to 19 curriculum," said shadow education secretary David Blunkett. "Sir Ron's report recognises what Labour has long said about the need to ensure that young people enjoy a greater breadth of experience in the academic and vocational."

But the Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, Don Foster, called the proposals "half a loaf". "Sir Ron has made it half-way down the road of integrating vocational and academic qualifications but then got cold feet. His stumbling block has been the continued Government insistence on maintaining A- levels as the 'gold standard'.

"But half a loaf is better than none and we may get the second half.

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