The Confederation of British Industry has rejected plans to replace A-levels and GCSEs with a new diploma system, despite a survey of its own members finding a majority supported change.
Digby Jones, CBI director general, said that the move, under consideration by a government task force, would be a damaging distraction from improving literacy, numeracy and vocational courses.
He said: "Scrapping existing exams would destroy an educational standard known, understood and respected by employers. The upheaval of bringing in a new diploma would damage young people's education by diverting enormous amounts of time and effort from the real priorities."
The task force is likely to recommend this month that all courses for 14 to 19-year-olds be brought into a four-level diploma qualification by 2010.
The group, led by former chief inspector Mike Tomlinson, thinks the new qualification could improve the quality of vocational courses and raise staying-on rates among 16 to 18-year-olds.
The CBI's stance is a blow for the task force. But the findings of its survey of 101 employers are more ambiguous.
Asked if a diploma system would improve attainment, 52 per cent said it would, compared to the 33 per cent who thought it would have little effect.
Forty-four per cent said a diploma would simplify the current system, 41 per cent that it would cause confusion. Meanwhile, 53 per cent said that an overhaul of the existing system would be beneficial.
Asked what type of diploma they preferred, 68 per cent of respondents said a new structure built around existing qualifications, compared to 23 per cent who wanted the current exams completely replaced.
Mr Tomlinson has indicated that GCSEs and A-levels would no longer exist as free-standing qualifications. But it is likely that elements of the diploma will build on existing A-level, GCSE and vocational courses.
A CBI spokesman said employers were not against change. They wanted major improvements to vocational courses and more focus on basic literacy and numeracy skills. The survey was only one part of wider consultation the CBI carried out with its members.