Balls delays A-Level review to 2013

Education secretary Ed Balls is to postpone a review into A-Levels due next year until 2013.

The minister explained yesterday the government was delaying the review in order to give the new Diploma system time to bed down.

“It has been argued in the past that Diplomas could only be a success if A-Levels and GCSEs were no longer offered as stand-alone qualifications, and that we should use the planned 2008 review of A-Levels to signal the end of these qualifications,” Mr Balls said.

“But this is not the government’s view and not a matter for us to pre-judge. We need to have time to consider the success of our Diplomas, and assess how far the changes we have already made to A-Levels and GCSEs have strengthened these qualifications.”

The education secretary also unveiled additional Diplomas in science, languages and the humanities and a new expert advisory group to shape the diploma featuring representatives from the CBI and Russell Group universities along with Mike Tomlinson, Diploma champion for schools and colleges.

“Diplomas will open up real opportunities for combining academic and practical options to allow every young person to make the most of their talents, whether they are progressing to further study, work or an apprenticeship,” Mr Balls said.

“We are confident that these new subject-based Diplomas will secure the benefits of Diplomas for all young people. They will provide a wider curriculum offer for those young people who want to secure both the theory and practical skills they need to excel in study, work and life.”

Chris Keates, general secretary of the teachers’ union NASUWT, said: “These are important reforms which are intended to address a major generational problem of non participation in education and training post-16.
“Engaging young people in learning and ensuring their continued motivation and participation are key educational and economic challenges.”
He added the diploma had the potential to widen participation, broaden and extend skills, and secure parity of esteem between vocational and academic courses.

“The extension of the suite of diplomas to include Science, Humanities and Modern languages will address the concerns of some practitioners that these subjects may have become marginalised within the existing diploma structure,” Mr Keates said.

He went on to say the postponement of the A-Level review until 2013 should not be “used as an opportunity to downgrade or sideline the Diplomas”.

“The critical challenge now is to identify the best way to build capacity in schools and colleges to manage this extensive curriculum change.”

However, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) has accused the government of “bottling it” over A-Level reform.

“This timid government has bottled it again – rejecting for the second time in three years a need to reform A-Levels and GCSEs,” said Martin Johnson, ATL acting deputy general secretary.

“ATL believes today’s youngsters need a better curriculum offer and more meaningful qualifications now. And although the diploma has the potential to be that better offer for some youngsters, it does not look like meeting the gap in provision for our least successful 16-year-olds.”
The Association of School and College Leaders welcomed the new Diplomas, but general secretary Dr John Dunford said “the devil will be in the detail of curriculum, assessment, links to other courses, partnership and timing”.

At the launch of the new Diplomas, Geoff Parks, director of undergraduate admissions at Cambridge University, said: “We have had extensive input into the Engineering Diploma, with the goal of ensuring that it will be a suitably rigorous qualification for entry into higher education.

“The university strongly welcomes any moves that will encourage young people to study the sciences, maths and modern languages in particular at a higher level.”

Richard Lambert, director general of the CBI, has now called on the government to fully promote the new Diploma qualification.

“The government has embarked on a very ambitious plan to roll out this programme in a short space of time. If it is to be successful, the Diploma system must be properly promoted to students, parents, universities and employers,” he said.

Liberal Democrat children, schools and families spokesman, David Laws, said the government needed “to get its act together” on how our young people are taught and tested.

“This delay may reflect government anxiety on how successful the diplomas will be. There is widespread scepticism in schools about whether they will be popular amongst students.

“The existing diplomas are being rolled out too rapidly and without proper consideration being given to some serious practical issues. Children in rural areas particularly will find it difficult to travel between different schools to access the full range of diploma qualifications.”

“We need an examination system which not only enjoys public support and credibility, but which provides qualifications relevant to every young person, encompassing vocational and academic approaches.”