DfES won't meet worried Tomlinson authors

29th October 2004 at 01:00
The Department for Education and Skills has drawn a line under the Tomlinson inquiry, rejecting calls for meetings with its members who fear their recommendations may be watered down.

Ministers appeared to express doubts about the most radical aspects of the blueprint for a diploma to replace stand-alone qualifications for 14 to 19-year-olds.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said last week: "GCSEs and A-levels will stay, so will externally marked exams." Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, appeared to directly challenge the report when he told the House of Commons that "a rigorous external assessment regime at 16 is critical". Tomlinson recommends that most assessment at what is now GCSE level be done by the pupil's own teachers.

Professor David Eastwood, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia and a member of the working group, wants talks with the Government.

He said: "Some of the early responses, perhaps, were premised on a less than complete understanding of what we were recommending. If they are saying A-levels and GCSEs will continue as wholly independent, free-standing qualifications, then that's not what I believe the Tomlinson report is recommending."

But a spokeswoman for the DfES ruled out further meetings. She said: "The working group had a specific remit: that has now finished and it's for the Government to take it forward. The working group's role has ended."

Intriguingly, the Tomlinson reforms echo a pamphlet called A British Baccalaureate edited by David Miliband, now school standards minister, when he was at the Institute of Public Policy Research 14 years ago. It called for A-levels to be replaced by a new diploma, although last week the minister insisted current exams should stay in recognisable form.

Nick Pearce, director of the IPPR, called on the Government to be clearer about the scale of reform. "I don't think there is any point in doing the Tomlinson work unless you feel there is a long-term ambition for change," he said.

The authors of another three-year study of 14-19 education have urged ministers not to repeat the mistakes of past "abortive" reforms. Changes to the system need to be comprehensive and systematic, the Nuffield Review of 14-19 Education and Training said in its first annual report.

Writing in The TES today, Ewart Keep from University of Warwick Business School, and a member of the Nuffield Review's directorate, said keeping GCSEs and A-levels would undermine the reforms. Employers would continue to insist on traditional qualifications, making the diploma redundant, he said.

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