TEACHING unions gave a cautious welcome to plans announced yesterday to replace GCSE and A-level qualifications with a four-stage diploma that is designed to stretch pupils of all abilities.
Former schools chief inspector Mike Tomlinson's proposals will see wide-ranging changes to 14-19 schooling in a bid to stop young people from dropping out of school without proper skills.
Mr Tomlinson's plans, which have been drawn up at the request of the government, will broaden the scope of secondary education, offering vocational courses for those pupils who are looking to go straight into work, rather than attend university after school.
Under the reforms, all students will have to pass a "core" element of the diploma, including "functional" maths, English and computing. But most coursework and some exams will be scrapped in favour of teacher assessment.
However, the higher stages of the diploma - replacing A-levels - would be made more challenging for the brightest students, who will be able to study the equivalent of first-year degree-level courses.
Mr Tomlinson argued: "We continue to have too many young people leaving our system without the necessary mastery of the basics in language and numbers.
"We also have a very poor record in providing clear transparent vocational routes for young people from the age of 14," he said.
"The framework that we propose meets the present challenges head-on and provides a blueprint that places core skills as its heart," Mr Tomlinson stressed.
NASUWT acting general secretary Chris Keates welcomed the plans to put pupil assessment back into the hands of teachers.
They will "welcome this vote of confidence in their professionalism, skills and ability," she said.
But any move to increase teachers' workloads will face serious opposition from the union, she added.
NUT general secretary Steve Sinnott stressed that teachers "must be at the centre of determining what works and what doesn't" when the plans are implemented.
"If the pilots show some that proposals do not work or increase workload on teachers, then changes must be made."
ATL general secretary Mary Bousted hailed the plans for offering up a structure that will "enable young people with varying abilities to reach a formal level of achievement.
"Previously ignored groups will now have the chance of a worthwhile qualification," she noted.
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