The interim report of Sir Ron Dearing's review of 16-19 qualifications elicited more than 850 responses by mid-November, mostly from secondary schools, with 372 commenting. Further education colleges provided 139 replies, universities 30, and employers 42.
The National Foundation for Educational Research, which analysed the responses, found "as a number of the submissions were received late, were blank or were illegible, it was not possible to code and analyse them all".
Even the most frequently cited points only attracted responses of around 20-30 per cent, so no clear-cut picture emerges on the main issues, says the report.
One-third commented on maintaining the standards of A-levels, with 17 per cent of employers, universities and sixth form colleges, 24 per cent of secondary schools, and 16 per cent of FE colleges agreeing that they should be rigorous. But this view was tempered by those who found the A-level curriculum too narrow. A considerable number said AS examinations lacked credibility with universities.
More colleges and schools than employers were concerned about A-level standards varying across subjects. Of the 46 per cent responding, 13 per cent thought modular A-levels were as demanding as conventional ones, with 3 per cent disagreeing and another 3 per cent claiming they were more demanding.
Universities and industrial training bodies showed most concern over levels of achievement in maths and science. Fifteen per cent overall expressed concern about the decline in numbers specialising in these subjects.
Parity of esteem ranked high in responses to questions on General National Vocational Qualifications and NVQs along with rigour of assessment, especially among employers. Nearly a third referred to streamlining GNVQ assessment, with a quarter saying this would reduce burdensome procedures.
Employers, TECS and examining and lead bodies questioned the image of these exams and the lack of understanding of them. The universities, FE colleges and employers remarked especially on standards.
More than half the sample responded to the issue of making the qualifications framework flexible enough to allow young people to progress at different speeds towards the National Targets. A quarter agreed to this, with most organisations favouring a credit accumulation or transfer system.