Ministers herald a new school leaving age

Education Editor,Richard Garner
Wednesday 13 February 2002 01:00

The Government in effect proposed a new education leaving age of 19 yesterday, outlining by introducinga package of measures to encourage all young people to stay on at school after 16 or enter training.

One of the main proposals in the Green Paper, which represents the biggest shake-up of secondary schooling for more than a decade, is a plan for new "matriculation diplomas" for 19-year-olds, designed to persuade students to mix and match new vocational exams and traditional academic A-levels.

The diplomas, likened to school certificates, abolished in the 1950s, which recorded all pupil achievements, will be awarded at 19. A higher diploma will go to students with two grade As and a B at A-level or its vocational equivalent. Ministers will consult on whether the diplomas should include a section on "active citizenship" to give employers a better indication of a pupil's character.

The Green Paper says: "We want to include wider activities within the award in order to promote and recognise the skills necessary for employment, such as leadership, team-working and problem solving."Activities such as the Duke of Edinburgh's Award or sporting and musical achievements could be included in the section.

Employers welcomed the plans, saying they would help give "a fuller picture" of potential employees. But John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, described the higher diploma as "superfluous", adding: "Employers and university admissions tutors will still want to know what grades have been achieved and it is difficult to see why a separate certificate is needed for those with higher grades."

There was also controversy over other proposals, particularly the decision to allow 14-year-olds to drop academic subjects such as languages and opt to study work-related courses at college or go out on work experience for two days a week.

John Monks, general secretary of the TUC, said: "The Green Paper includes some bold proposals. However, we must ensure that all children are entitled to a broad-based curriculum and that these changes do not lead to a two-tier education system, one for academic high achievers and another for the rest."

A decision to encourage bright pupils to take their GCSEs early or even skip some exams altogether and move straight to AS-levels also provoked controversy. Professor Dylan William, of King's College, London, said there was a "growing acceptance" in higher education that fast-tracking was wrong. "The potential dangers outweigh the advantages considerably," he told BBC Radio 4's World At One programme. "Acceleration is not the right thing to do because of the danger of rushing children through these qualifications without a full understanding."

The Government also confirmed its plans to introduce language teaching in primary schools and give every seven-year-old the right to learn a language within the next decade.

Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, said university languate students would be encouraged to spend half a day a week in primary schools to help language teaching. Local firms could also be approached by to lend employees with language skills.

¿ The Welsh Assembly confirmed yesterday that it will reintroduce student grants of up to £1,500 a year from September. They will be available to students from Wales regardless of where they study.

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