Three Rs screening for school leavers

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The Independent Online

Teenagers will be screened for their ability in basic maths and English before they enter the workforce, under plans for a diploma to replace the existing GCSE and A-level system.

Teenagers will be screened for their ability in basic maths and English before they enter the workforce, under plans for a diploma to replace the existing GCSE and A-level system.

The move follows pressure from employers, who complain that job candidates with exam passes struggle with numbers and, in some cases, are barely literate.

All youngsters will be forced to study three key skills - numeracy, language and communications - under the shake-up, to be unveiled next month by Mike Tomlinson, the former chief schools inspector.

At present, it is possible to obtain five A* to C-grade passes at GCSE without taking maths or English, and to get a job or a university place without basic skills.

In future, all youngsters will have to pass in each of the three key skills to get the diploma. The tests will be pitched at the level of GCSEs. Most will take them by the age of 16 - before they leave school or move into the sixth form.

The tough line is seen by ministers as essential to obtain employers' backing for the new diploma planned by Mr Tomlinson.

Digby Jones, the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said the lack of basic skills was a national scandal that was "knackering productivity". He warned: "There will be no work for people who can't read in five years' time."

However, Mr Jones - who originally opposed the Tomlinson proposals for failing to tackle the basics and for replacing A-levels - said employers were beginning to be won round to them. "We're not there yet but we're on our way," he said.

David Miliband, the Minister for School Standards, made it clear the Government was prepared to press ahead with plans to introduce compulsory basic skills tests for all youngsters in advance of bringing in the whole package of exam reforms planned by Mr Tomlinson.

Mr Tomlinson had always planned to introduce core studies in the basics as part of his package. However, it is the decision to withhold the diploma from those students who fail to master them which is seen as essential in giving teeth to the proposals. About seven million adults in Britain are said to struggle with the three Rs.

The Tomlinson blueprint, due in two weeks' time, will make preparing youngsters for the world of work a key element of its proposals.

Mr Tomlinson confirmed at a Labour Party fringe meeting organised by the Association of Colleges that his report will call for the establishment of a new four-level diploma, into which all existing qualifications will merge.

It will also call for a big reduction in coursework in GCSE and A-level exams and introduce an essay-style dissertation for all students, aimed at stretching the highest-flying youngsters and highlighting their level of thinking skills to university admissions staff.

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