Labour schism opens exam void

June 20, 1997

A senior civil servant has admitted that his staff have been given only "sketchy policy directions" about the future of qualifications for 16-19-year-olds.

Michael Richardson, director of qualifications at the Department for Education and Employment, said at a conference on the future of the 16-19 system: "We're not exactly putting Dearing's review of qualifications entirely to one side to start all over again, but we are working on paper with triple spacing and there is plenty to fill."

Confusion about the Government's policy for the future of A levels and their vocational equivalents followed last week's announcement that the reform of qualifications was to be put on hold to allow for wider consultation.

The deferral has fuelled speculation of a policy schism between education and employment minister Tessa Blackstone, who is understood to advocate abandoning the A level in favour of a French-style baccalaureate, and secretary of state David Blunkett, who is thought to support the status quo.

Changes to A levels, a new AS level to broaden study options, improved vocational qualifications and a new key skills exam were all to be implemented by September 1998, in line with the recommendations of Sir Ron Dearing's report into qualifications for 16 to19-year-olds.

Speaking at the launch of the new Qualifications and Curriculum Authority this week, Baroness Blackstone said: "We want to build on proposals in Sir Ron Dearing's report. We will take the opportunity to move towards our long-term goal of a single certificate for young people as the basis for progression into higher education and employment."

Baroness Blackstone, as founder of the Institute of Public Policy Research, has long been associated with moves to abolish the A level. An IPPR report earlier this year called for a phase-out of A levels as part of broadening sixth-form study. It also said that "the long-term objective of phasing out A levels should be pursued by broadening university entrance requirements".

Nick Tate, chief executive of the QCA, has been careful not to rule out a baccalaureate-style system.

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