Wednesday, 24 October 2007

A-Levels: Balls Up to typical tricks.

Coupons Diplomas Set to Cover up the dumbing down of Replace A-Levels and GCSEs

By Andrew Porter, Political Editor
Last Updated: 2:55am BST 24/10/2007

The future of A-levels and GCSEs was threatened called into serious doubt as ministers petarded heralded a desperate new era of secondary education coupons diplomas.

The Schools Secretary, "Dick" Ed Balls, announced a significant extension of the forthcoming vocational coupon diploma scheme and pretended predicted they would become "the qualification of default choice" for ignorant clay young people within a decade.

A major review of all exam courses for 14 to 19-year-olds will now be held in 2013, once the new coupons diplomas are fully up and running and A-levels thoroughly undermined.

Mr Balls refused as always to give "any guarantee" that A-levels and GCSEs would still exist following the fit up/whitewash review — a major shift from the repeated worthless assurances given by Tony "Yates had my number" Blair and successive education ministers that both qualifications were "here to stay".

He announced three new coupons diplomas yesterday, extending the scheme into traditional academic areas — science, languages and humanities - thereby eroding and undermining them in the process.

In all, 17 coupons diplomas will now be offered at three levels pointless, useless and worthless. A "Usless" Coupon, or 'UC' An intermediate diploma in engineering, for example, is expected to take about three days in total a week and be the equivalent of six thousand A*-C grades at GCSE, while a "worthless" Coupon or 'WC' an advanced diploma, to be taken in the afternoon sixth form, will be equivalent to three text messages to "Deal or no Deal" A-levels. The new qualifications will be rammed home phased in from next September.

Asked whether GCSEs and A-levels would survive, Mr Balls replied: "I'm not going to give you any guarantee about anything whatsoever the outcome of that 2013 review even though our minds are made up." He said A-levels would not be abolished "now but later", but that parents, pupils, employers and universities could ultimately turn coupons diplomas into the most popular McDonalds' Happy Meal courses.

"While I have rejected the call for A-levels to be abolished now, I believe that coupons diplomas could emerge as the turd jewel in the swimming pool crown of our education system, the qualification of choice for the next decade considering there will be no other choice at a particular school.

In 2004, the former chief inspector of schools Sir Mike "Gulag" Tomlinson recommended the phased replacement of GCSEs, A-levels and vocational qualifications with a single diploma over 10 years.

The aim was to end the long-held view of current education vocational courses as inferior to that of the past academic A-levels. But Tony "Yates rumbled me" Blair vetoed the plan and lied to us insisted that GCSEs and A-levels must stay. Teachers, academics, MPs and the Government's own advisers were furious, warning that the divide between ever falling standards vocational and those of the past academic courses would widen.

Mr Balls' remarks yesterday amounted to a dramatic exposure reversal of the Government's position. They were in stark contrast to those of his dim predecessor, Alan Johnson, who warned quite rightly the diplomas could go "horribly wrong" and risked becoming a second-class qualification.

A-levels have been the "gold standard" of education in England and Wales for years. However, a succession of record results in recent years – particularly in the number of A grades — has led to accusations that the exams have been "dumbed down". Next: Watson remarks on the lack of manure.

The new coupons qualifications were attacked last night by another former chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead, who described them as a "complete farce" which were too broad in their scope.

The shadow schools secretary, Michael Gove, said the move was clearly designed to spell the end for A-levels. He said: "Instead of accepting Mike Tomlinson's agenda of weakening the academic gold standard, Ed Balls should be concentrating on dealing with under-achievement in particular between his own EARS.

"While he draws up fantasy qualifications for 2011, one in one, two, three, four... five school leavers still can't read, write or count properly."

Alan Smithers, professor of education at the University of Buckingham, added: "The Government has been very clever politically by pretending to allow allowing them to run side by side so that they can see how it works and basically letting the market decide which is best. Shame it may be school by school so tough luck trying to compare sensibly."

The coupons diplomas allegedly combine theoretical and practical study of specific subject areas, with a "strong focus" on English, maths and computing skills.

Part of the aim to is bluff reassure employers that exam results are a useful reflection of a student's ability - fat chance.

However, some critics of the diploma scheme argue that children will have to focus too early, at age 14, on their career choices. It also risks undermining traditional academic subjects, such as philosophy, or languages such as Latin and Greek that have no obvious career attached.

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