Tomlinson and Miliband clash over reforms

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The Independent Online

The schools reformer Mike Tomlinson and a minister clashed over the future of GCSEs and A-levels yesterday, casting doubt on whether the Government would accept the radical plans for the exams.

The schools reformer Mike Tomlinson and a minister clashed over the future of GCSEs and A-levels yesterday, casting doubt on whether the Government would accept the radical plans for the exams.

Mr Tomlinson recommended this week that the GCSE and A-level systems be replaced by diplomas with four different levels over the next 10 years.

But yesterday David Miliband, the Schools minister, insisted that the terms GCSE and A-level must be kept in any reform of education for 14 to 19-year-olds.

He also cast doubt on the diploma, saying that its introduction was a separate issue to improving the quality of secondary education.

Speaking at a higher education conference in London on Mr Tomlinson's proposals, Mr Miliband indicated the Government was not wholehearted in its backing for the reforms. "The question of whether or not you have an overarching unified framework is separate to the one of whether you have clarity, status and quality of the different routes within the system," he said.

He maintained that the terms A-level and GCSE would remain despite Mr Tomlinson's insistence that their abolition was vital to implementation of the whole package.

His comments suggest that the Government plans to "cherry pick" ideas from the report while shying away from introducing the full package. The Conservatives are hoping to attract support at the next election by campaigning to save A-levels.

In his speech to the conference, Mr Tomlinson explained his vision for the future of GCSEs and A-levels, which he said would remain the building blocks of the new diploma.

In what would be the most radical overhaul of secondary education for 60 years, Mr Tomlinson's system would see fewer public exams, better vocational courses and more challenging work for the brightest students.

Mr Miliband's comments reflect a shift in the Government's position. Earlier this year Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, described his preliminary proposals as "the biggest reform of qualifications in any of our lifetimes".

The Government said this week that it would consider the proposals carefully and respond in detail with a White Paper early next year. But the Prime Minister appeared to pre-empt the process by insisting that GCSEs and A-levels would not be scrapped but would instead be "strengthened".

Yesterday Mr Miliband praised some of Mr Tomlinson's proposals, such as requiring all students to complete a 4,000-word project and recording a candidate's achievements on a transcript to be shown to employers and universities. However, he steered clear of the controversial topic of diplomas.

Speaking at the conference, Mr Miliband insisted that the names A-level and GCSE must appear on the transcript. "Mike says absolutely clearly that the A-level and the GCSE will be reported independently on the transcript, there for all to see," he said. "If you get an A in A-level English, that will be transparently there for anyone to see," he said. "It is obviously then for higher education and employers to decide what value they put on these things."

Mr Tomlinson, however, said the names GCSE and A-level would go. "You would not have the trademark term on the transcript. It would tell you the subject, it would tell you the level.

"It is not going to stop people referring to them in the way that they have done in the past. I think that it will be some time before those labels disappear in people's minds."

He said that people still referred to O-levels, which were replaced by GCSEs in the 1980s.

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