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.


Anonymous said...

I can't agree Conor. Tomlinson was the way forward. I was gutted when Blair just dismissed it. This is the 21st century and we should stop dividing people into academic A level students and no hoper vocational students. What I saw of Tomlinson was emminently sensible stuff. An overarching diploma with plenty of subjects so people don't box themselves off for life by taking only 3 subjects at only 16 years old. I was an arts student and really regret not being able to learn more about the sciences after I started A levels - I feel lob sided. The diploma proposals also talked about different levels within for all the abilities. I hope Brown implements it all as soon as possible.

Conor Ryan said...

I agree that you should not have to be confined to only three similar subjects at 16. That's why Tony Blair supported the extension of the IB last year. The IB insists on a mix of humanities, science, language, the basics and community service. But that's not what Tomlinson ended up proposing: his Diploma would have merely meant A level students being required to do GCSE English and Maths. But there would be no more mix and match for academic students than now. To be fair to Sir Mike, he probably started out with an IB-type solution in mind - and I supported him when he did - but he was persuaded that it would be all too difficult. That's why I think students should have a choice, and that choice should include the IB which would meet your concerns.