Tories to back Tomlinson exam reforms

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The Independent Online

The Conservatives plan to back major reforms to A-levels. Tim Collins, the party's education spokesman, said he expected the inquiry by Mike Tomlinson, the former chief schools inspector, into 14-to-19 education would produce "something at least as credible as the existing A-level".

The Conservatives plan to back major reforms to A-levels. Tim Collins, the party's education spokesman, said he expected the inquiry by Mike Tomlinson, the former chief schools inspector, into 14-to-19 education would produce "something at least as credible as the existing A-level".

Mr Tomlinson, whose final report is published next month, plans to replace the existing GCSE and A-level with a new over-arching diploma.

Mr Collins, on the eve of his party's conference next week, said he believed there would be something "recognisable of A-level within the diploma" for 18-year-olds. "It really doesn't seem to present difficulties at the end of the day," he added. His comments are likely to be greeted with relief by ministers who feared a row over ditching the "gold standard" of A-levels before the election if there was massive opposition to the diploma.

Mr Collins acknowledged the importance of trying to reach an accord over the proposals - to be introduced over the next decade - since they would cover the lifetime of the next two parliaments. He expressed "certainly strong agreement" with plans to split A-level A grades and allow universities to select the highest flyers from the plethora of candidates presenting themselves with three A-grade passes. Mr Tomlinson is advocating splitting the grade into three so admissions staff will know whether candidates have just scraped through or got top marks.

"At the top it really is important that the brightest 5 to 10 per cent should be clearly identified," Mr Collins added. "Whether it is by splitting the grade or restricting the highest band to a set percentage of pupils is open to debate but it must be done."

He also strongly backed a separate test in core skills - literacy, numeracy and information technology - and said he would keep pupils at school until they had passed it. "Schools should not discharge a pupil at 16 who has not got this literacy/numeracy certificate," he added. But, he said, he had concerns about the way the diploma would replace the GCSEs taken by 16-year-olds.

"He might recommend no external assessment at 16," he said. "But you still need something credible for employment for those who do leave at 16. Many switch institutions at 16 and go to a further education college or a different school. How do you assess the school they are leaving if there is no assessment?"

Mr Collins agreed course-work should be dramatically reduced. Mr Tomlinson is expected to recommend every youngster should undertake a "personal challenge" or extended essay, to stretch their thinking skills.

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