Analysis: Broader skills base could develop more rounded students

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LIfe in the classroom will be very different for the next generation of secondary schoolchildren.

Their older brothers and sisters may look on with envy as the number of tests and exams they take is slashed - but take a deep breath when realising how many subjects they have to study.

Under the proposals outlined yesterday by the former chief schools inspector Mike Tomlinson, the class of 2013 will have learnt under a new four-level diploma, designed along the lines of the International Baccalaureate (IB). The aims are to highlight educational prowess and give employers and universities more insight into pupils' character by registering achievements in activities such as sport and drama.

At entry level, the certificate will show the teenager has basic skills, such as maths and literacy, and the ability to use information and communications technology. It will also indicate whether a student has the skills to engage in teamwork, an area identified by employers as lacking in many school leavers.

At foundation level, the certificate will be the equivalent of a D to G pass in GCSE exams, or a General National Vocational Qualification (GNVQ). Students will be encouraged to study supplementary learning areas in addition to their GCSE or GNVQ studies. For example, if a student is taking a GNVQ in leisure and tourism, they might take a short modern languages course as well.

An intermediate level certificate would be the equivalent of an A* to C grade GCSE pass or a higher level vocational qualification. Again, students would be expected to supplement their studies and show they had mastered basic skills.

The top advanced level diplomas will be the equivalent of AS and A-level passes and Advanced Extension Awards (AEA), the tests introduced last year, which are intended to stretch the brightest A-level students.

Mr Tomlinson indicated there might be three tiers of advanced level diplomas, to show whether a student had reached AS, A or AEA level. When asked whether GCSEs and A-levels may be scrapped, he has so far only ventured: "Possibly not, not necessarily certainly."

The report says students should not be able to get individual recognition for component parts of the diploma. "We have therefore rejected as a basis for our work models which nest qualifications inside a larger award," it states.

That appears to indicate the disappearance of GCSEs and A-levels - although Mr Tomlinson said offering them within the umbrella of the diploma it would be possible.

The system could work as the IB, where students are offered a point score up to seven in their subjects. Whether there would be points or a grade system had not yet been decided.

There will also be a reduction in the number of external tests. The report's authors make clear they can see no sense in students sitting 12 GCSEs at the expense of developing their learning skills in the basics.

Mr Tomlinson wants to put the emphasis on internal assessment and establish a new "chartered marker" status for teachers so that each school has internal markers.

But he indicated that "four or five years" would pass before the first students embarked on the diplomas for education from 14 to 19. The new system would not be fully operational until 2013.