Welcome back to the debate

20th February 2004 at 00:00
It would be easy for a reform-weary education service to overlook the importance of the Tomlinson inquiry. It is not just a tidying-up of the random agglomeration of academic and vocational qualifications. It is a serious attempt to tackle a scandalous waste of talent and denial of opportunity. Far too many learners retire defeated from education and training which would have benefited them as individuals and served us all better socially and economically.

This week's report asks the fundamental question: what (and how) should all young people learn from 14? It's not an original question but it is one that needs asking again from time to time as demands change.

Then it tries to envisage a system of teaching, assessment and qualifications which will encourage more to continue learning. In this is one of Tomlinson's best ideas: that each level of the new diploma should have a toehold of achievement in the next to encourage upward progression.

Has Tomlinson reached universally sensible conclusions? Only time will tell - time and the answers to a number of further technical questions outlined in this interim report. The devil is often in the detail.

What the report does is to open up a wider debate - a novel experience for anyone joining the education profession in the past two decades. For once the Government is not demanding reform by yesterday, regardless of the views of those who have to make it happen.

Ministers clearly recognise that something must be done. But they are proceeding carefully for fear of evoking a backlash in defence of A-levels.

So it is now essential that those with a professional and personal stake in the interests of the full range of learners make their views known on these proposals. For that reason The TES will be devoting a number of pages to reactions to the Tomlinson report over the next few weeks. All contributions welcome.

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