SIXTEEN to 19-year-olds who want good A-levels must be assured that there will be no drop in exam standards, Lord Dearing told the leaders of Britain's independent further education tutorial colleges at the weekend, writes John Isbicki.
But to maintain such high standards, a reduction in the number of syllabuses was urgently needed. "Only then can the task of examiners to maintain comparable standards be brought within manageable proportions," he declared.
He explained that his proposed AS level, "marrying depth and breadth", would prepare young people for life and provide them with a "high level of the so-called key skills".
Lord Dearing, whose mammoth report on the future of higher education continues to spark fervent discussion, said that if the Government's current proposals came under fire, he should be the first target.
Speaking at a dinner in Exeter during the annual Conference of Independent Further Education colleges, Lord Dearing said that it was vital to offer opportunities that met the different talents and aspirations of young people.
"While I have made a case for greater breadth, we should always offer the opportunity for a closely defined area of study and a challenge for the most able that historically has been provided by S-levels."
He agreed wholeheartedly with Education Secretary David Blunkett's initiatives to improve basic skills in schools.
"English and mathematics are the gateways to the whole world of learning. But the standards achieved by 16-year-olds, even in the best schools, still need much development for those aiming to build a substantial career."
He said he was glad that the universities were considering a new points system to cover a wider range of qualifications.
Further guidance on post-16 changes is expected within the next few weeks and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority will run regional "Qualifying for Success" conferences next month.