Tomlinson heads for the bin

18th February 2005 at 00:00
Teachers' support for secondary reforms will not save them, report Warwick Mansell and Jon Slater.

Proposals for the biggest changes to secondary education in more than 50 years are to be rejected by the Government next week.

Despite a groundswell of support for Sir Mike Tomlinson's 18-month review from teachers' leaders, a senior backbench MP and at least three education quangos, ministers are expected to throw out the main proposals.

The former chief inspector's inquiry into secondary exams and the curriculum recommended a four-level diploma qualification to absorb A-levels, GCSEs and vocational qualifications by 2015.

Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, will reject this approach in a White Paper to be unveiled on Wednesday.

It is expected to reveal:

* A new diploma qualification to embrace vocational courses in a drive to improve these exams.

* Youngsters given the right to post-16 education and training.

* Major expansion of local partnerships between schools, colleges and employers to offer more vocational options at 14-19.

* New stress on practical maths and English, to meet employers' concerns about young people leaving school without the skills they need in the work place.

* GCSE and A-level pupils to undertake extended study projects, while academic sixth-formers can take university courses.

* Reform of the A-level grading structure to allow greater differentiation between high-flyers.

* Sixth-formers no longer required to take AS levels if they are going on to sit A-levels.

Ministers will present the paper as a response to Sir Mike's criticism of vocational courses, but many of his recommendations are being rejected.

Last-minute attempts were being made this week to persuade ministers to include A-levels and GCSEs within the diploma after The TES revealed that the new qualification could cover vocational exams alone.

Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, is understood to be furious, arguing that this would make the vocational diploma a second-class qualification.

Today, Barry Sheerman, chair of the House of Commons Education Select Committee, warns that it would be a "tragedy" if ministers introduced a solely vocational diploma. He says (below left) that A-levels should be replaced.

David Miliband, the former schools minister now working on Labour's election campaign, is also understood to be concerned.

The white paper comes as a report for the QCA underlined the case for change by revealing that the school exam and testing system cost the taxpayer pound;610 million in 2003-4. Tomlinson sought to reduce this bill, although his plans were not costed.

Ministers will face outrage from many in education over the white paper. In December a TES poll found two-thirds of secondary heads want A-levels and GCSEs replaced by the diploma. David Bell, the chief inspector, has backed this view and the Learning and Skills Council also shares it.

Yet there is widespread speculation that the Prime Minister rejected scrapping A-levels and GCSEs for fear of alarming voters in the run-up to the general election. One source said: "The Government has taken a fairly cynical view of life, arguing that the election is not going to be won or lost over Tomlinson. What it is worried about are certain newspapers accusing ministers of dumbing down if they get rid of A-levels and GCSEs.

It's very disappointing."

A DFES spokesman said the Government would not be commenting until the White Paper is published.

* warwick.mansell@tes.co.uk

FE Focus 1

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