The government says its 14-19 initiative will construct a clear route to higher education. But critics disagree. Tony Tysome reports.
University admissions chiefs have welcomed the green paper proposals, but warned that high-achieving pupils should not be encouraged along a fast track at the expense of pursuing a broad curriculum.
Higher education institutions have already demonstrated that they are flexible in responding to new qualifications and new entry routes, said Cath Orange, academic registrar at Leeds Metropolitan University and chair of the practioners' group for the academic registrars' council.
It is therefore likely they would be happy with the idea of an overarching diploma, particularly if it encouraged more students to progress to higher education.
"Those universities with an applied learning portfolio will welcome the raising of the standard of vocational awards and a focus on those kind of subjects early on in the curriculum," she said.
But she added: "We would not want to lose the kind of checks and balances that ensure pupils do not narrowly specialise too early."
College heads also backed the proposed reforms, but warned that they would have to be backed by hundreds of millions of pounds of new investment. The Association of Colleges said the money was needed to bolster funding in colleges that deliver most vocational education.
Damian Green, shadow education secretary, said the government had identified the right problems but its solutions were "badly focused".
He said: "We will look with interest at the proposals for A levels. The real problem for academic pupils between 16 and 18 is that there are too many exams."
Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said the government should ensure that employers were at the centre of the vocational reforms.
"Unless employers have a key role in designing the new courses they won't win the approval of business and risk failure," he said.
* Linguists have attacked government proposals to allow pupils to drop languages at the age of 14 while welcoming plans to offer languages from the age of seven, writes Alison Goddard.
Hilary Footitt, chair of the University Council of Modern Languages, said:
"I understand the government's desire to introduce greater flexibility into the curriculum to encourage more young people to stay on in education. However, I have real concerns that they will be sending out a message that languages are not basic to the education of all our population and, in particular, to the new vocational routes - in tourism and business - that they clearly want to develop."