Applied A levels set for sidings

October 11, 1996

The Government is likely to ditch one of Sir Ron Dearing's key recommendations for ensuring parity of esteem between academic and vocational qualifications, turning advanced General National Vocational Qualifications into "Applied A Levels", the higher education minister revealed this week.

Lord Henley, speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Bournemouth, also claimed that Sir Ron himself was having second thoughts about the plan.

The change of heart throws into doubt the associated plan to designate traditional but vocational-type A levels such as art and design as Applied A levels, a measure designed to boost the public standing of the vocational route.

It also marks out the Tories from Labour in the run-up to the general election. The plan to replace advanced GNVQs with Applied A levels is one of the central planks of Labour's education and training proposals published earlier this year.

Lord Henley said that, although no final decision has been made, "I would prefer to keep the GNVQ as it is because we have only had them for about three years and we are just beginning to get a degree of recognition". He added that "to change the GNVQ to the Applied A level would only confuse".

Lord Henley said his "greater and greater doubts" were reflected in "a shift" of thinking within the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority.

Even Sir Ron, who recommended the Applied A level in his review of 16-to-19 year old education published barely six months ago, "is beginning to waver on that", he claimed.

Another Dearing proposal Lord Henley greeted with scepticism is to give greater prominence to unconventional qualifications such as the baccalaureat, in the university admissions process. With a Eurosceptic comment typical of this year's conference, he said: "I would always prefer English qualifications rather than French qualifications."

But Lord Henley acknowledged the political motivation behind another of Sir Ron's roles, his higher education review, which will not report until after the general election. He said: "The point of Dearing was, to some extent, to take higher education off the political agenda."

He added that the Conservatives have no plans to penalise universities that start charging top-up fees. He dismissed Labour proposals to do so as "quite extraordinary" and said that top-up fees are "a matter for universities as institutions, although we have made it clear that we don't think they are necessary".

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