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Testing must be curbed

The Government's post-14 examsinquiry wants teachers' burden to be lightened. Warwick Mansell reports

The man leading the Government inquiry into the future of secondary education pledged today to cut testing, warning that over-examining is damaging children's learning.

On the eve of publication of a report outlining a new qualifications structure, Mike Tomlinson said that any reform must avoid "pushing more on to teachers".

In an article in today's TES, he attacked the "adverse effects of large volumes of mechanistic assessment", which showed more about pupils' ability to pass exams than their potential.

Pupils in England now sit more than 100 formal assessments, more than almost anywhere else.

Last month David Miliband, the school standards minister, said that the Government needed to look at the frequency and volume of external assessment.

Mr Tomlinson, whose inquiry into 14 to 19-year-olds' education, wants to put more emphasis on teacher assessment, but not at the expense of workloads.

The former chief inspector said: "An overall reduction in assessment load must and will be real. It cannot simply be a case of pushing more on to teachers."

Next week's report is expected to recommend that all youngsters complete communication and numeracy courses.

The 15-member group will propose a four-level diploma, covering all secondary qualifications, from GCSEs and A-levels to vocational courses such as BTECs and Modern Apprenticeships.

Pupils aged 16 would choose between an entry, foundation or intermediate level diploma and work towards the next level. The advanced level diploma, which would generally be taken by 18-year-olds, includes a research project. All diplomas would comprise a compulsory core of communication, numeracy and information technology.

Students would opt for specialist subjects modelled around GCSE, A-level and vocational courses. Traditional maths and English literature would be optional at all levels.

Mr Tomlinson has suggested that diplomas should be graded rather than just pass or fail.

Students could also get credit for work experience and voluntary work.

The group will recommend a huge reduction in formal coursework, with pupils' research skills assessed through projects.

A-level students will be able to bypass AS-levels. In the long run, there will be no diploma set at the equivalent of AS-level.

It is understood that the group is considering two new A-level grades between the current A and B marks.

The diploma system could give more weight to teachers' assessment of pupils' routine work in lessons but the group must convince union leaders this is possible without adding to workloads.

The report will advocate maintaining students' subject choice, as opposed to Continental baccalaureate systems which prioritise breadth.

The working group's final paper will be produced by the autumn.

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