Heads urge abolition of GCSE

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PUBLIC school heads are urging the Government to abolish the GCSE exam and to introduce a new certificate instead of A-level for 18-year-olds.

A draft paper presented to the Headmasters' Conference in Bournemouth yesterday would mean in effect raising the school leaving age to 18 and a single qualification for 18-year-olds whether they are on academic or vocational courses. The paper is in tune with Labour Party policy of one leaving certificate for 18-year-olds but it also supports the Government's wish to retain A-levels. These would remain under the umbrella of a new Advanced Diploma.

A final version of the paper will be sent to Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education. In spite of pressure from throughout the educational world, ministers have refused to change A-level, which they say is 'the gold standard' of the system. However, Mrs Shephard may be more receptive than her predecessor John Patten after her experience with vocational education and training in the Department of Employment.

The Prime Minister has committed the Government to the search for 'parity of esteem' between academic and vocational qualifications at 18.

Public school heads meeting in Bournemouth yesterday debated the paper which says that GCSE fails to prepare pupils for A-level and may encourage pupils to leave education after taking it.

Under a new Advanced Diploma, a tariff of points would be used for any qualification achieved up to the age of 18. The title A- level might disappear 'provided the distinctive qualities of the current system are maintained'.

Tony Evans, head of Portsmouth Grammar School, who chaired the working party, said the aim was to sweep away the elitist distinction between academic and vocational exams. 'If you have a title which ties together numerous avenues of access then you have a far greater degree of acceptability for different paths on their own merits,' he said. He opposed the idea of destroying A-levels and replacing them with a new broader exam of five subjects which some critics of A-level have advocated.

The heads say they are against pupils staying on at school against their will after the age of 16 but say training for those who leave for a job should be compulsory.

From 14, pupils should be able to reduce the number of subjects studied. By their final year some would be studying six while others did only three or four.

The paper argues that, while the A-level approach is appropriate for pupils of high ability, it is not suitable for those who get Ds and Es.

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