Tomlinson reforms are 'still to play for'

March 18, 2005

The Tomlinson reforms to integrate vocational and academic school qualifications could be resurrected after the general election, according to the chair of the influential House of Commons Education Select Committee.

But the election could delay the introduction of a university application system based on actual, not predicted, results of prospective students, it has emerged.

Barry Sheerman, the Labour MP for Huddersfield who chairs the select committee, said the Government was running scared of implementing the Tomlinson reforms - which would place academic and vocational qualifications on an equal footing - because it feared that this would not be popular with the general public.

Mr Sheerman added: "Strategically, I think there is something to play for - for those of us who think the Government doesn't go far enough - because there is a general election coming."

Mr Sheerman was speaking at a conference on the education of 14 to 19-year-olds ahead of next week's select committee report on the proposed Tomlinson education reforms and the Government's rejection of the plans in its response to the White Paper published last month.

He confided in delegates at the conference that he had been approached by government ministers formerly involved with education, who had urged him to keep on lobbying the Prime Minister to support the Tomlinson reforms.

Mr Sheerman's comments were welcomed by David Eastwood, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia and a member of Mike Tomlinson's working group.

He said: "I understand that this may well not be the last we hear. After the election, some of the issues could be revisited."

Professor Eastwood said that civil servants at the Department for Education and Skills had felt they had to run with the White Paper and the new ministerial appointments at the department rather than wait to consider the reforms until after the general election.

He said: "It would be very welcome if some of the key issues could be looked at again."

Meanwhile, two proposals for a post-qualification application system that have been drafted by the Government's director-general for higher education, Sir Alan Wilson, and his consultation group will be presented to interested parties this week.

The first proposal involves a two-stage process under which students register interest in four academic institutions before making one formal application after their results are known.

The second - proposed by the vice-chancellors' umbrella body, Universities UK - would involve all universities and colleges reserving places that would be made available during the summer clearing process to students who had attained better grades in their exams than predicted.

However, a formal consultation paper requires ministerial approval - which would have to be given before the general election is called. It is thought unlikely that ministers will have the time to give the go-ahead before the announcement of an election.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education and Skills said: "These are not government proposals. This is just a discussion at this point - a very early stage of what will be a long and thorough consultation process.

"Post-qualification application is right in principle and could help to widen participation and make university admissions clearer and fairer.

"But it is a long-term goal that can only be achieved with the widespread support of and the minimum disruption to the education sector."

Leader, page 14

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