Academic alliance seeks overhaul of the exams system

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The Independent Online
A NEW framework for qualifications after the age of 16, which could lead to the disappearance of GCE A-levels within five years, was called for yesterday by an unprecedented alliance of schools and colleges in the state and independent sectors.

The idea would be for all existing qualifications, both academic and vocational, normally taken after the age of 16 to be united under a single umbrella.

The aim would be to create parity of esteem between vocational and academic courses and to stem the human waste created by the 30 per cent failure and non-completion rate of post-16 courses.

Under the plan, which was sent to the Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Shephard, yesterday, GCE A-levels and the new advanced level General National Vocational Qualification would disappear and students would be able to pick and mix graded units from academic and vocational origins.

Students could be assessed while their course progressed - current GNVQ practice - or at the end, as in the GCE A-level.

The ideas, which resemble proposals from the Labour Party, have been produced by a joint working party representing the Secondary Heads Association, the Headmasters Conference, the Girls' School Association, the Society of Headmasters and Headmistresses in Independent Schools, the Sixth Form Colleges' Association and the Association for Colleges.

The working party met at the offices of the Banking Information Service, in the City, and its conclusions echo widespread agreement throughout industry and commerce that post-16 qualifications need reform.

Dennis Lavelle, head of Winstanley Sixth Form College, who chaired the working party, said change was essential if the country was to meet education and training targets set by the Government. Half the workforce is expected to reach the vocational or academic equivalent of two GCE A-levels by 2000.

Gillian Shephard has yet to make public her views on GCE A-levels, but previous Conservative Secretaries of State have made it clear that the exam is perceived as a gold standard with the clear implication that any reform could lower standards.

Yesterday, Mr Lavelle said: 'Do you think the people on this working party want to undermine standards? Standards . . . will be increased.'

He said that currently there was no lateral movement between GCE A-levels, GNVQs and the work- based National Vocational Qualifications. 'It is like having three motorways with no link roads.'

The three separate routes allowed the labelling of people in a way which militated against parity of esteem, he said.

Mr Lavelle added that the high failure and non-completion rate in the present system meant 'thousands of young people were being conditioned to failure'.

The report recommends that some prescription will be necessary to ensure students follow balanced courses and study broader disciplines - mixing arts and sciences for example.