The carping and political fudging starts here

22nd October 2004 at 01:00
We knew we were in for "the most radical shake-up of the English exam system for 50 years"(BBC News) when the exam reforms led the news on both Sunday and Monday.

Mike Tomlinson hoped his 207-page extended essay would win a distinction, but was frustrated by his examiners' response. He started well by spinning promises of tougher A-levels to the Sunday papers. But his first setback came when Tim Collins, the Tory spokesman, said on Breakfast with Frost that he wanted to do things differently. This involved his boss, Michael Howard, being filmed playing table tennis, while demanding tougher A-levels.

Then Monday's Times had "business bosses" threatening to boycott "flawed exam reforms". CBI spokeswoman Susan Anderson told ITV News they had "yet to be convinced". So, Mr Tomlinson spent Monday defending his work, reminding Jim Naughtie on the Today programme of his commitment to scholarship, before angrily dismissing sceptical reporters at a well-attended press conference.

Most papers were unconvinced: "Fascinating but flawed" (Times); "Looks good, in theory" (Telegraph). A Financial Times leader was brutal: "a recipe for chaos". Tuesday's Sun bemoaned a "dodgy diploma" though Monday's Sun had complained that improving basic skills "will take TEN YEARS to implement".

Irritable Daily Mail columnist Melanie Philips, was on A++ form, as she fumed "For our children's sake, Charles Clarke should bin this exam report". Vanessa Feltz in the Express wanted "the tawdry Tomlinson report" binned too, as she urged us to "scroll back the clock".

However, Mr Tomlinson won at least a merit from the Mirror ("an excellent blueprint") and the Independent ("a potentially good idea"). And Monday's evening news bulletins showed positive backing from pupils and teachers.

But, as the Guardian reported, No 10 ("Blair insists A-levels will stay") and Mr Clarke look set to ditch the controversial bits of his report in the New Year. Mr Tomlinson could well be asked to resubmit his work.

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