Fast-track plan for starred A levels

October 1, 2004

New A-level grades, including a top A**, could be introduced within three years as part of reforms to the 14-to-19 exam system, ministers will be told.

The Times Higher has learnt that Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector of schools, will suggest several "quick wins" when he presents his report on the reform of GCSEs, A levels and vocational qualifications on October 18.

Although Mr Tomlinson will warn that it may take ten years to fully implement his diploma system, he will suggest that ministers make changes to A-level grades and introduce a "transcript" of pupils' achievement within three years if trials are successful.

The diploma would draw together vocational and academic qualifications under one exam system. It would also mean that students sit compulsory "core" subjects in literacy, numeracy and computer skills at the equivalent of A level, in addition to their choice of specialist subjects.

It is understood that a seven-grade scale for A levels will be suggested, which will include splitting the existing A grade into A, A* and A**. To achieve the A** grade, students would have to answer the type of questions currently in the Advanced Extension Awards, which replaced S level.

There will also be cautious backing for a national trial of a university admissions test - but no firm statement on a post-qualification application system, currently being examined by Sir Alan Wilson at the Department for Education and Skills.

Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, is expected to make a Commons statement on the day the Tomlinson recommendations are published ahead of a full government response - possibly a White Paper - in early 2005.

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