A Government decision to scrap the committee set up to give professional advice on the key area of 14 to 19-year-olds' education has been strongly criticised by state and independent school head-teachers.
The decision, which was taken last October but not made public, has dismayed the main headteachers' associations which have been campaigning for an end to the division between academic and vocational courses and qualifications for 14 to 19-year-olds.
However, Nick Tate, chief executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, the Government advisory body which has scrapped the committee, has robustly defended the decision to abolish it, and SCAA's only other permanent committee on 5 to 14 education.
Four teachers' associations have condemned the decision - the Secondary Heads Association, the National Association of HeadTeachers, the Headmasters' Conference, and the Girls' Schools Association.
Dr Tate also refuted suggestions that the Government was running down SCAA now that its review of the national curriculum had been completed.
Only SCAA council members could serve on the committees and they felt their work was being duplicated in council meetings, said Dr Tate. There were now more council meetings to compensate for the loss of the committees, he said. SCAA also plans to organise more regional conferences for teachers to provide feedback to the council and Dr Tate will be meeting the GCSE exam board secretaries regularly.
But Vivien Anthony, secretary to the Headmasters' Conference, said: "The decision to disband the only (Government) 14 to 19 committee I am aware of is a retrograde step. All the teachers' associations are committed to looking at 14 to 19 as a unit. There is no evidence at the moment that SCAA is addressing that issue with any confidence or with any new ideas."
John Dunford, vice-president of the Secondary Heads Association, feared that SCAA would turn into its predecessor, the School Examinations and Assessment Council, and tackle only examination issues - a point also refuted by Dr Tate.
Heather DuQuesnay, director of education for Hertfordshire and a member of the 14 to 19 committee, said abolishing the committee would not cause any problems as long as the important 14 to 19 issues were still discussed.
The National Union of Teachers said the abolition of the committees was an "operational" matter for SCAA, and what was important was that the authority continued to deal with the key issues.