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Stillborn A-level shake-up mourned

The Government has wasted a rare chance to tackle historic prejudice against vocational courses, said headteachers, classroom unions, employers - and England's chief inspector - this week.

Many in education united in disappointment at Wednesday's white paper on 14-19 education, published after a pound;1million, 18-month government inquiry led by Sir Mike Tomlinson.

Sir Mike said: "What is proposed yet again risks emphasising the distinction between the vocational and the academic."

Ministers announced a new diploma to cover 14 vocational subjects from 2008, but rejected Sir Mike's central idea of replacing A-levels and GCSEs.

There were also few measures to cut the number of exams. Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, said: "There will be no getting away from external assessment at GCSE and A-level."

The Confederation of British Industry said it was "delighted that A-levels and GCSEs are here to stay".

Criticism elsewhere was widespread, however. David Bell, chief inspector, while welcoming the Government's emphasis on improving work-related courses, said: "Continuing the current GCSE and A-level structure carries the risk of continuing the historic divide between academic and vocational courses which has ill-served many young people."

Writing in today's TES, John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said ministers had failed most of the tests they set for Sir Mike.

The Independent Schools Council said the Government had "failed to grasp" the many opportunities provided by Tomlinson.

TOMLINSON THWARTED, 12-13

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