International baccalaureate better than A-levels, Lord Adonis admits

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The Independent Online

His comments were immediately seized on by education leaders as evidence that the Government had been wrong to reject Sir Mike Tomlinson's proposals to replace A-levels with a broader diploma.

About 200 schools offer the diploma alongside A-levels. But Lord Adonis said 200 schools were a "drop in the ocean", adding: "Having the IB as an option is a good thing where schools wish to offer it. But it is not a vote of no confidence in A-levels; it is a different type of post-16 course."

Schools opt for the baccalaureate because they are attracted by the broader education if offers, with pupils required to study languages and maths.

Lord Adonis said on BBC News 24's Sunday programme yesterday that he was "sympathetic" to the view that this breadth of study was beneficial for some. But he said A-levels offered good options for students who wished to specialise. Ministers are facing demands to scrap A-levels after record numbers of students scored top grades again. National results showed 22.8 per cent of A-level entries were awarded an A-grade this summer.

Lord Adonis denied A-levels had been "dumbed down" and said the challenge for the Government was to persuade more pupils to study A-levels. "We need them to achieve," he said. "Most 17- and 18-year-olds are not taking A-levels and a good proportion of those are not in education."

Lord Adonis said individual unit grades for A-levels would now be released as well as the overall grade to allow universities to differentiate between pupils. In addition, tougher questions would be brought in.

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "The recognition by Andrew Adonis that greater breadth is sometimes required in post-16 studies is important and could be a pointer to a move towards a broader diploma of the type recommended by Tomlinson.

"I do not think the answer is just to stick with A-levels. The Government should make A-levels part of a broader diploma."

David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "If the Government approves of the IB as a good qualification for the more able I cannot see why it cannot throw its weight behind a British-type baccalaureate.

"I think the Government is trying to preserve the A-level as we know it - and with that comes too narrow a curriculum for the more able students."