Maths and English to lead exam overhaul

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A dramatic incentive to schools to improve standards in maths and English will be announced today as part of what ministers are billing as the biggest exams shake-up for more than 50 years.

A dramatic incentive to schools to improve standards in maths and English will be announced today as part of what ministers are billing as the biggest exams shake-up for more than 50 years.

Ministers want school exam results to show the percentage of candidates achieving top grade A* to C grade GCSE passes in the core subjects for the first time.

Last month The Independent exposed how schools were putting pupils in for GNVQ (vocational) qualifications such as information technology deemed to be worth the equivalent of four GCSE passes - and ignoring the basics, English and maths. Today's White Paper on exam reform will say the traditional measure of a school's success - the percentage of pupils achieving at least five top grade GCSE passes - should include passes in the two core subjects.

The measure - aimed at tacking the flaws in a system that has allowed up to 11 million people to leave school without basic skills - is one of a series to be outlined by Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, in response to a government inquiry into exam reform headed by Sir Mike Tomlinson, the former chief schools inspector. Her proposals will introduce a new education leaving age of 18 instead of 16 - as all youngsters will be promised either apprenticeships or college-based courses if they do not stay on into the school sixth-form.

She will stop short of endorsing the report's main recommendation - that the GCSE and A-level system should be scrapped and replaced by an overarching diploma covering all qualifications. But she will call for the situation to be reviewed in four years' time.

Recommendations of the Tomlinson report that will be given the go ahead include a 4,000-word extended essay project at A-level to develop pupils' thinking skills and more difficult papers for the brightest A-level candidates to help universities select the top achievers now that one in five pupils achieve grade A passes at A-level.

The Tomlinson recommendation that the A-grade pass at A-level be split into three, with new A* and A** classificationns will be passed for consideration by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the exams watchdog.

Ms Kelly will outline a new vocational diploma to run alongside GCSEs and A-levels - insisting that it will not be a barrier to going on to university.

But critics argue that the Government's "soft-pedalling" will add to the two-tier system.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "This is the latest in a long line of decisions to put off reforming the sixth-form curriculum. Heads will think they have been sold a pig in a poke."

In an interview broadcast last night by a new round-the-clock digital TV channel, Teachers TV, Sir Mike delivered a swingeing attack on A-levels. He believes it has become too easy to teach for the exam - rather than stretch thinking skills. He added that it would be "a pity" if ministers just introduced a "wraparound" diploma for vocational qualifications.

Sir Digby Jones, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said scrapping A-levels would be a mistake.

*Far too much teaching in primary schools is mediocre, according to an Ofsted report into English and maths standards. One in three primary school English and maths lessons were "no better than satisfactory" despite a government drive to raise standards.

Comments