Plea for input in development of 14-19 diplomas

October 16, 2008

The architect of the Government's 14-19 reforms has issued a plea for universities to get involved in developing the next phase of diplomas, warning that they will otherwise risk becoming a barrier to university entry.

Sir Mike Tomlinson told a conference on admissions last week: "Please higher education, ensure that you are involved, and actively involved, and that subject knowledge is not sacrificed to application."

He said: "If we do sacrifice knowledge, we could end up with qualifications that quite honestly would not give ... an easy transition to degree study."

The former chief inspector of schools made strong criticisms of A levels, saying that they were in their present form "strangling scholarship" and reducing students to identifying key points that collect marks.

He said students were abusing resits by using them to try to improve their marks even when they had already scored an A grade, so as to better impress university admissions staff.

Sir Mike said resits should be reserved for students who had not met the required standard.

Sir Mike's review of the curriculum for 14- to 19-year-olds advocated that A levels, GCSEs and vocational examinations be phased out and replaced by a diploma.

Last year, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, who has said that diplomas could replace A levels as the "qualification of choice" in England, announced a new phase of diplomas in the "academic" areas of science, languages and the humanities to be taught from 2011.

The first diplomas are already being taught. More will be rolled out over coming years.

- The number of students studying the Government's new diplomas is far lower than it had originally hoped, it emerged this week. The Government had hoped to see at least 40,000 students taking the first five subjects, but this summer it said the total starting in September would be 20,264. Figures published this week show the figure has dropped again. Schools secretary Ed Balls told MPs that 12,000 students are currently working towards diplomas.

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