14-to-19 reforms defended by Kelly

March 4, 2005

A key test of the Government's proposed reform of 14-to-19 education will be whether elite universities in future offer places to students with a mix of "practical skills", work experience and A levels, Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, said this week.

Making her debut at the Commons Education and Skills Select Committee on Wednesday, Ms Kelly faced repeated questioning about her decision to ignore the Tomlinson proposals to absorb A levels, GCSEs and vocational qualifications into a new diploma.

Ms Kelly said that her proposals - which included a new vocational qualification -would still create a "parity of esteem" between traditional academic subjects and more practical study.

The Education Secretary gave the example of a student who, in future, might apply for an engineering course at university having studied A-level maths and AS-level physics "but who could also build a car and had some work experience".

"The test is will this approach provide a route into our best universities, such as Cambridge or Imperial?" Ms Kelly said.

"We will be consulting with Cambridge and Imperial to find out what they would like to see.

"You never know, they might in future prefer some students who have practical experience."

With the exception of Nick Gibb, Tory MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, who applauded Ms Kelly for not "slavishly following the views of the education establishment", committee members asked why the Government had ignored the Tomlinson recommendations.

Ms Kelly replied: "I think the degree of consensus about Tomlinson has been overestimated.

"He didn't get consensus from parents or pupils. I think it is a fundamental principle of reform that you build on what you have already got."

But Ms Kelly said that she wanted to talk to universities about "breadth as well as stretch" in the subjects studied at secondary school.

"If universities came to me and said that they wanted greater breadth, such as every student entering higher education having critical theory, or a modern foreign language or science, or having completed an extended project, I would want to explore that with them."

Jonathan Shaw, Labour MP for Chatham and Aylesford, asked about the Government's aim to reduce the number of civil servants. Ms Kelly replied that 500 employees at the Department for Education and Skills had already left, many of whom had accepted voluntary redundancy.

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