Diploma must reveal abilities

October 31, 2003

Reforms to school-leaving qualifications must not hinder universities'

ability to identify the best candidates, vice-chancellors have warned, writes Alison Goddard.

In its response to the consultation on the reform of the 14-to-19 qualifications framework being devised by former chief inspector of schools Mike Tomlinson, Universities UK says it supports the view of 14-to-19 education as a coherent single phase of learning with clear paths of progression.

It also strongly supports the need to improve retention rates, particularly post-16, while encouraging progression and increasing attainment levels among young people.

But UUK says in its response: "Universities UK notes the proposal to develop a national framework of diplomas covering whole programmes of study, rather than existing individual qualifications such as GCSEs, GNVQs, A levels and NVQs.

"In view of this, it will be important for the overall diploma to have currency and status and to be able to offer some clear added value to students and end users, including higher education and employers.

"This will be particularly relevant to university admissions, whereby institutions will need to be clear as to the benefits to be gained from making offers on the basis of the overall diploma rather than focusing on achievement within individual components.

"Further clarification of the role of existing qualifications within the diploma is required and of the different levels and types of diploma within the overarching framework. Mapping of the skills base of the diploma on to the range of products within higher education will also be necessary," it says.

Lecturers' union Natfhe welcomes the proposals overall while making a similar point.

Dan Taubman, Natfhe's further education policy official, said: "The system's obsession with advanced qualifications for the very brightest is failing far too many young people. We need an inclusive system of qualifications that encourages all learners to achieve, from the lowest ability to the highest.

"However, the new system must ensure that employers and universities know exactly what each qualification says about a person's skills, knowledge and capabilities if they are to gain public acceptance and credibility.

"If these proposals succeed in getting rid of the elitist distinction between academic and vocational routes of study, it will be a tremendous boost for students and the economy," he added.

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