Ruth Kelly hints at U-turn on future of A-levels and GCSEs

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The Independent Online

Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Education,cast fresh doubt over the future of A-levels by promising to consider a diploma to replace traditional exams.

Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Education,cast fresh doubt over the future of A-levels by promising to consider a diploma to replace traditional exams.

Ms Kelly angered the educational establishment when one of her first acts as Education Secretary was to reject plans from the former chief schools inspector Sir Mike Tomlinson to replace A-levels and GCSEs with a continental-style diploma.

Educationalists had come to an almost unprecedented consensus that a diploma system was needed to stretch the brightest and engage the disaffected. It resulted in a long-running dispute between Ms Kelly and teachers' leaders, who have made several personal attacks on her leadership.

But yesterday Ms Kelly stressed that a "general diploma" at A-level would be reconsidered in 2008, raising the prospect that a Tomlinson-style diploma could still be introduced.

But her comments were criticised by educationalists who said it was unfortunate that Ms Kelly had created confusion over the future of A-levels while hundreds of thousands of students were preparing to take the exams.

Ms Kelly rejected the Tomlinson proposals in a White Paper on education for 14- to 19-year-olds in February. The paper announced plans for mainly vocational diplomas that will run alongside existing exams. It also promised a "general diploma" at GCSE level, which will be awarded to students who score five C-grades or better.

But Ms Kelly rejected plans for a similar diploma for A-levels because she said there was "no consensus" among schools, universities and employers on the issue. But in an interview published yesterday, Ms Kelly said: "I said that in 2008 we would review how the system was operating and we would look particularly at whether we could achieve a consensus with employers and HE [higher education] about whether there should be a general diploma."

But Ms Kelly stressed that it was still her policy that A-levels and GCSEs were "here to stay".

Nick Seaton, the chairman of the pressure group Campaign for Real Education, said: "This looks like the gradual erosion of A-levels."

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