Bac plan will force degree overhaul

July 18, 2003

Proposals for a new baccalaureate-style qualifications system for 14 to 19-year-olds could mean universities having to redesign degree courses and rethink admissions policies, universities and colleges said this week, writes Tony Tysome.

Sweeping reforms of the school and college qualifications system over the next five to ten years were proposed by a working group led by former schools chief inspector Mike Tomlinson.

In an interim report on its review of the curriculum and qualifications for 14 to 19-year-olds, published this week, the working group suggests incorporating existing qualifications, including GCSEs and A levels, into new baccalaureate-style diplomas, possibly set at four levels from entry through to advanced.

But it could mean an end to A levels and other current qualifications because the group wants students to work towards a diploma that will cover the whole of their learning experience.

The proposals were welcomed by university and college leaders as "a step in the right direction".

But Universities UK chief executive Diana Warwick said it was "vital that the potential knock-on effects for universities and their admissions procedures are explored, in full consultation with the HE sector".

Judith Norrington, director of curriculum and quality for the Association of Colleges, said the proposals had "considerable implications" for higher as well as further education.

Cath Orange, who chairs the Universities Admissions Practitioners Group, said the proposals could mean "quite significant changes to the higher education curriculum".

She added: "If we are looking at different outcomes at different levels then higher and further education will need to be very careful to work together to ensure there are proper progression routes. That is the best solution rather than saying we have to throw everything away and start again."

The Tomlinson report says that in order to achieve a diploma, students would need to complete a mixture of specialist, general and supplementary learning, divided into a range of components or modules to allow them to choose a variety of options within the overall programme. The diplomas might also recognise achievement in "key skills" such as teamworking and wider activities, experiences and interests such as sports, arts and voluntary work.

The interim report will be used as a consultation document with final recommendations to be given to ministers in July 2004.

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