Students could profit from part-time work under A-level and GCSE replacement

Paper rounds and other part-time jobs done by schoolchildren could soon count towards the replacement for A-levels, according to Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector of schools.

Mr Tomlinson, who is heading a government inquiry into the examination system, said yesterday that it would be wrong to ignore the skills youngsters had gained during part-time working. An estimated one million 14- to 19-year-olds workpart-time at supermarkets or in family businesses. Mr Tomlinson told the Association of Colleges' annual conference in Birmingham that their work could count towards a new English-style baccalaureate diploma.

"So many are in part-time employment yet in terms of the skills they're developing, we give little or no credit," he said. Mr Tomlinson revealed that nearly two-thirds of respondents to his consultation paper on exam reform had backed the idea of the new diploma. It would replace GCSEs and A-levels. He said he also wanted students' voluntary work and sporting success recognised by the diploma.

"Within the International Baccalaureate [widely used in Europe] it is given that it is part of the core of their study - the idea of community service. We're always talking about the fact they should have something that's work related and we're more or less ignoring what they do.''

All schoolchildren do two weeks' work experience at 14. In addition, 14- to 16-year-olds can spend up to two days a week at a school on work-based learning or at college in an attempt to rekindle their interest in education.

Mr Tomlinson also called for the scrapping of age-related qualifications, saying that bright youngsters should be able to take the advanced level of the diploma (the equivalent to A-levels) before 16. Sixth formers could also start university degree courses - possibly through the Open University.

Mr Tomlinson also called for a reduction in the external exams taken by youngsters - saying there should be a move towards teachers assessing their pupils' work.

"It is very important to restore the credibility of in-course assessment and value it as something undertaken by professionals who know what they're doing. That's not going to be easy."

He said he would back a proposal by the Secondary Heads Association to train key staff to mark their pupils' work. They could be subjected to spot checks by exam watchdogs to ensure they were up to scratch.