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Tomlinson is back to steer reform

So Sir Mike Tomlinson, architect of the 14-19 diplomas, is back. He will have a central role as the new qualifications are extended to cover more subjects, bringing forward the day when diplomas could be the norm.

It would have been easy to lose faith in the qualification reforms proposed after the Tomlinson review in 2004. His proposal to scrap A- levels - always likely to be unpopular in parts of the home counties - was strangled at birth. Tomlinson, a thoughtful figure, appeared to be left standing in the stampede to the safe ground of politics.

But what we have now is the prospect of a more gradual emergence of the status of diplomas and that oft-mentioned "parity of esteem" which is needed for courses of study that depart from the traditional route.

Not only will diplomas be extended to new vocational areas but academic subjects will be included too. This will more sharply focus the need for a smooth transition from school to post-compulsory education, as well as moving academic and vocational education closer to equal footing. It will mean more teenagers have an alternative to old-style qualifications.

FE colleges have been forced for too long to offer a second chance to pupils who have had to get through a GCSE curriculum before they could get the kind of education which works for them - the kind diplomas promise to deliver for increasing numbers.

The emergence of reforms which at least resemble the Tomlinson recommendations comes as the Government reconsiders another issue: its approach to adult education. Ministers have been lobbied hard on both issues and it seems they have been listening. Next year will be interesting for colleges.

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