School view: 'It is complicated, as though they want to satisfy everybody'

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The Independent Online

The comprehensive school that has achieved the best A-level results in the country for the past two years expressed concern yesterday about some of the Tomlinson proposals.

The comprehensive school that has achieved the best A-level results in the country for the past two years expressed concern yesterday about some of the Tomlinson proposals.

Paul Benn, head of sixth form studies at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School (it retained the word grammar after becoming a comprehensive) in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, said the proposed diploma seemed "overcomplicated" and unpopular with business leaders.

"I think the big worry is that the heads of industry do not seem to like the proposals," he said. "If some of the selective universities take the same view then more of them are likely to set their own exams which would make life much more difficult for us and our students. "We are concerned that it does seem so very, very complicated as if what they want to do is satisfy everybody. They are trying to square the circle - which is very difficult to do.

"What they are trying to do is almost impossible: get more people to stay on at school; make exams harder to stretch the brightest but also make them easier so that more people pass. We are fairly content at Queen Elizabeth's with the way things are."

Students at the school had mixed views. Jason Oakley, 17, who will sit exams in English, psychology and IT next summer, argued that the Government should invest the time and money in improving the current system rather than trying to introduce a new system so soon after the reform of A-levels. He also warned that the core of compulsory maths and English would be extremely unpopular with less academic students.

But Flora Cust, 17, who has applied to study geography at Cambridge University, welcomed the plan to create A+ and A++ grades to distinguish between the brightest students. "I think it's probably a good idea as there are a lot more people getting As and Bs than there used to be. But I think a lot of people will get stressed out about it and feel they have done badly if they don't get A-plus-pluses."

Chris Smith, 17, who is predicted to get three A grades in economics, business studies and geography, argued that the new A++ grade would help the brightest students. "At the moment you can be predicted three As and still be under a lot of pressure to distinguish yourself from everyone else with lots of outside interests," he said. "At least this will be very clear and make it easier to see that places at top universities have gone to the brightest people."

Expert view: A bold step forward, but not for business

David Bell, chief inspector of schools

"The report demonstrates that there is a better way forward and I call upon the Government to be bold and consider whether both GCSEs and A-levels... need to be replaced by a system that unleashes untapped talent and meets the needs of all young people. The 'change in mindsets' the report calls for will not come about if people retreat to bunkers in an attempt to defend GCSEs and A-levels."

Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority

"The report makes a compelling case for change. More 14-to-19-year-olds must remain in education and their levels of achievement must rise if future generations are to succeed in the challenging world of the 21st century. The proposals build on strong foundations. In this country we already have qualifications that are recognised internationally as world class."

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers

"We are in favour of the diploma and of the ways in which this programme will be more rewarding for learners. Previously ignored groups will now have the chance of a worthwhile qualification. It's a better deal for learners. The CBI and the employers would do better to work with the proposals, and get their act together on vocational training."

Ivor Crewe, president of Universities UK

"The proposals offer the opportunity for universities to draw from a wider pool of well-qualified candidates from all sections of society. The report has also tackled the difficult problem of how universities can differentiate between the most able candidates - a growing concern. We will be looking closely at the detail of the recommendations in the Government's forthcoming White Paper."

John Cridland, deputy director general of CBI

"Tomlinson sets out a clear vision... but business will be wanting to see how the Government plans to get there. The CBI cannot give a green light to these proposals yet. Business must be convinced more will be gained than lost by re-organising 14-to-19 qualifications. The report is chiefly about qualification reforms. Business is primarily concerned with raising literacy and numeracy standards."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association

"League tables of achievement at age 16 are a manifest nonsense in a 14-19 system ... The additional cost of the diploma system to schools must be matched by a rise in funding. I look for support from universities and employers. I hope to see the proposals, which should be viewed as a package, in the manifestos of all political parties at the next election."

Sir John Enderby, Royal Society's vice-president

"Alarmingly, there is no unambiguous commitment to science for all students between the ages of 14 to 19. This is despite science, in the broadest sense, being fundamental to the education of young people for both their success in careers and to equip them to engage with the increasingly complex issues surrounding science and technology that society faces."

Jean Gemmell, general secretary, Professional Association of Teachers

"PAT welcomes this bold, exciting and far-reaching report. We particularly welcome the recognition of the importance of vocational subjects. This is a bold move which recognises that a broader, more flexible curriculum, with more options for vocational subjects, can develop the skills and meet the needs and aspirations of all students."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers

"The Tomlinson report is a blue-print for the future. A diploma that stretches the most able, strengthens vocational qualifications, endorses the importance of core skills and enables all students to demonstrate achievement has to be the way forward. We are in the 'last-chance saloon' for the reform of secondary education."

Martin Stephen, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference

"Almost all of the recommendations made to Tomlinson have found their way into the final report and I believe that our schools will welcome most of the proposals. The solution to the problem of differentiation at the top end of A-level ... will allow the most able to show what they are capable of without devaluing the achievements of others."

Alan Wells, director of the Basic Skills Agency

"A good level of literacy and numeracy is vital for progress in employment and in society, and I welcome the report's emphasis on literacy and numeracy skills for at every stage of the education process. But I am concerned about those who struggle with English and maths, and those whose skills are at a lower level. Will they end up trapped in the loop of failure?"