Friday, 10 August 2007
Respected not rebranded qualifications
There are rumours around Westminster that ministers are revisiting the Tomlinson proposals for a single overarching diploma (pdf file) to 'bring the academic and vocational' closer together. This would be a big mistake. It would not only devalue A-levels, but would force vocational qualifications to become more like academic ones in order to create a dubious 'parity of esteem'. All this springs from a mistaken notion - one which was tried unsuccessfully with vocational GCSEs and A-levels - that the historic disdain for the vocational in this country can be solved by a rebranding exercise. It can't. Esteem must be earned not enforced, and the new specialised Diplomas and improved apprenticeships are the best way to achieve this. Moreover, any attempt to enforce esteem is in danger of reducing quality for no apparent benefit. After all, Tomlinson's proposed diploma bears little relation to the International Baccalaureate, which is increasingly available to those who want to take a less narrow academic route, and has the virtue of independence and international respect. Instead, ministers should concentrate on selling the four strong choices available to teenagers: A-levels, the IB, Diplomas and Apprenticeships. Each is a strong (or potentially strong) qualification in its own right, and the real effort should be expended on improving advice on choices for young people, so they work towards the qualifications best suited to their needs, rather than those of bureaucrats.