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Tomlinson announces maths is not a must

Warwick Mansell reports as taskforce prepares to reveal principles for reform

STUDENTS will not be forced to study maths and English in the sixth form, the man leading the Government's inquiry into the future of secondary education said this week.

Mike Tomlinson was speaking following reports that the subjects would become compulsory under a new "baccalaureate" diploma, which his inquiry is backing.

On Wednesday Mr Tomlinson's 14-member taskforce will publish its first report, setting out the principles for reform by 2010. However, the former Ofsted chief said that sixth-formers would not have to study maths and English.

The work of the group, which began in March and is not due to make final recommendations until next summer, is still at an early stage.

But Mr Tomlinson said that under a possible diploma system, students might be required to gain the equivalent of a GCSE grade C or above in both subjects to qualify.

This intermediate, or level two, qualification, would be part of the diploma and could be taken at any time during a student's school career.

The inquiry is also looking at whether maths and English skills could be assessed through other, possibly work-related, subjects.

The inquiry will support the need for a more coherent qualifications framework and the need to cut back on testing. It will alsopropose a new diploma, embracing four levels from entry to advanced.

The diploma could involve:

* a core curriculum of literacy, numeracy and information and communications technology, plus "soft-skills" valued by employers l specialist studies: academic, technical or vocational programmes

* further specialist programmes, for example statistics for historians

* extra curricular service, such as the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme.

Mr Tomlinson has argued against the new diploma becoming a "wrapper" around existing A-levels, GCSEs and vocational qualifications. He said that it would not be radically different from the Government's proposal last year of a matriculation diploma, which was widely rejected.

Another key issue for the task-force is how to recognise the achievements of those leaving school at 16 without the full diploma. The interim report is out for consultation until mid-October.

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