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Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, is there not some contradiction in what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is saying? Speaking as an academic, if the schools had more people with the IB, the universities would indeed take notice of that recognition and recruit people on a broad basis. Personally, I did a narrow A-level; it would have been a lot better if I had had a broader education. Giving people a broader education, as is done on the Continent, is highly beneficial. The noble Lord seems to have moved away from that tack in his speech.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am sorry if I appeared to do that. I think it is highly beneficial, but if we are going to create that in the 14 to 19 group we have to encourage universities to offer courses which keep the breadth. There will always be some who want to do physics—and go on to be nuclear physicists—or whose talents are narrow, but many people should be encouraged to keep the breadth. We need universities to come along with us in doing that. In terms of their product offering, there is at the moment no sign of them doing so. I do not believe we should rush into changes for the 14 to 19 group until we have the universities with us on this.
 
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3.43 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, on securing this debate. From these Benches, I can say that we wholeheartedly supported the central aim of Tomlinson—and would have expected the Government to do so far more explicitly. The aim of breaking down the barriers between the academic and the so-called vocational pathways seemed to be at the heart of the government Green Paper which led to the Tomlinson report in the first place. I speak for schools all over the country, such as St Luke's in Portsmouth, which vocational GCSE programmes have helped to turn into the seventh most improved school in the country. That is not just in terms of hard and fast results, but also in atmosphere, ethos and character.

Why is all this so important? There seem to be two purposes of education; on the one hand, human flourishing and the fulfilment of human potential and, on the other hand, social prosperity and economic success. Both are important. Both contribute to a happier, better society. Both would be promoted by ensuring that vocational routes in education become as highly valued as academic routes.

The Government's response in the recent White Paper came as rather a disappointment. The decision to retain GCSEs and A-levels, largely for academic routes, but to introduce new diplomas for vocational routes misses the opportunity to break down the binary line between academic and vocational. I appreciate the particular desire of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, to explore that further. However, as a result, vocational courses run the risk of being seen as second class. If that is the result, it is more than a disappointment. It is a missed opportunity to correct one of the persistent ills in British society. It will require of employers and higher education institutions much greater efforts to recognise the quality of the education many young people receive through non-traditional routes.

Then there is the place of religious education. There are aspects of the Tomlinson proposals which caused us some concern—more for what was not said than for what was. We might have expected the government White Paper to make up that gap, but in vain. Last year, Charles Clarke, when he was Secretary of State for Education, launched a new national framework for religious education. The Churches and the other faith communities had impressed him with their ability to work together with the government and RE professionals to agree on such a framework. The Government, in their turn, continued their commitment to religious education. The framework reinstates the requirement that RE is taught to all learners in school between the ages of three and 19—and that looks like being a very broadly based RE. I am not talking of a kind of narrow, conservative, Christian evangelical ghetto, but of something much broader.

We had hoped that Tomlinson, or at least the government White Paper, would have maintained consistency of approach by ensuring the entitlement of
 
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every learner in schools to RE in the crucial years beyond 14 and beyond 16. If they had been really consistent, they would have found a way to ensure that 14 to 19 learners also benefited from continuing religious education in some form or other. Many in further education colleges would welcome such a development, but I am afraid we were disappointed. References to religious education are scarce, and most were concerned with linking it with other curriculum subjects to make more time available for other activities. That is always the story when there is argument for a particular course.

Religious education is, these days, a fundamentally important part of the curriculum—and recognised as such by a dramatic increase in candidates taking examination courses. This, as supported by the statistics, is rather to the embarrassment of the old, tired secularist line. Perhaps I should not need to add that, as now conceived, RE contributes powerfully to the building of a more inclusive and cohesive society. We must act to prevent its disappearance in the new, post-14 environment.

Finally, the Tomlinson report had some interesting but tentative proposals about personal education. As with every self-respecting report, Tomlinson would have introduced another acronym to challenge the budding educationalist, CKSA: common knowledge, skills and attributes. I am afraid that we were able to give these only two cheers. We do get enthusiastic sometimes—two cheers, not one, but not quite three. The proposals, it seems to us, were an uncomfortable mix of functional skills, personal education and routes to becoming a responsible adult playing a role in the community. One tentative suggestion was that every student should have some kind of community engagement, whether helping young children to read or visiting elderly and house-bound people in their homes to help with some weekly chores. Many schools and colleges do have very effective community involvement. Such further developments would have been very welcome, even though demanding for schools and colleges to manage.

Rather than inventing the new name of common knowledge, skills and attributes, I would rather have seen this as an important part of spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. That is fundamental to the British education system, and only recently reinforced in your Lordships' House through the passage of the Education Bill. Yet the Tomlinson proposals seem to be tentative and less visible in the White Paper—where personal education is mentioned, but not really highlighted.

Functional literacy, numeracy and "stretch" are of course important, but they emphasise the functional nature of the proposed changes. With the less than adequate treatment of religious education and personal skills in the White Paper response to Tomlinson, it seems that they add up to little more than a utilitarian package. Can we not, together, raise three cheers for human flourishing—and thus avoid the pitfall eloquently described by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, as "turning diversity into hierarchy"?
 
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3.50 p.m.

Baroness Warnock: My Lords, like other noble Lords I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, for giving the House a chance to debate the Tomlinson report and for the things she said. It is a pity that there was not a chance to debate it before but at least we now have the advantage of being able to discuss the Government's response at the same time.

In her foreword to the White Paper, the Secretary of State speaks of breaking down artificial barriers between academic and vocational education. She has correctly identified what needs to be done, and what, indeed, Tomlinson sought to do. But it seems to me that, sadly, her words introduce a rather timid and short-sighted White Paper.

The proposal in the Tomlinson report that would really have broken down the barriers referred to by the Secretary of State was to phase out GCSE and A-level as freestanding examinations and instead embrace a single overarching system of diplomas at four levels, each containing core (compulsory) and main elements to be chosen by students and tested and assessed when they were ready. I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that this all-embracing system of diplomas—it is not just one diploma; it is a system of diplomas—would be meaningless. Indeed, I believe that it would be an extremely good and transparent system for seeing what the student has learnt and what he or she can do.

The great advantage of this system is that there would be no more blocks of examinations to be taken at fixed ages—16, 17 and 18. Pupils would accumulate credits for parts of each diploma as they were ready, and at 18 or 19 would have a set of diplomas that reflected what they had learnt along the way.

I must confess that for a very long time I have been an advocate of a system of student assessment by graded tests in both practical and theoretical subjects roughly modelled on—as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, suggested—the Associated Board music examinations, where practical and theoretical aspects of the subject are tested separately, and where the tests—in this case grades I to VIII—represent approximately a year's work, but where there is no restriction whatever on the age at which they may be taken. They are marked on a scale from nought to 150, and the marks are blocked into fail, pass, merit and distinction. These are intelligible and well respected methods of assessment in that subject. Each graded test—this is an important point—presents the student with a new goal that looks attainable from where she happens to be, and therefore, motivation is sustained throughout.

Tomlinson's proposed system of four graded diplomas: entry, foundation, intermediate and advanced, each divided into separately assessed components, is an elegant and workable extension of the same principle across the whole curriculum, giving the same attainable goals and the same flexibility, to accommodate pupils of different ages, different levels of ability and different spheres of interest.
 
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I must confess to having been optimistic at one stage when I first learnt what Tomlinson's proposals were likely to be. I hoped that at last the division between those who were doomed to fail—which is the majority of students—and the rest was going to be allowed to disappear. Students would now, as I hoped, all be able to have a diploma saying what they had done and could do in the future, and would all be motivated to achieve the best diploma in their chosen subjects, practical or theoretical. They could take pride in their work and their achievements, whatever they were. Sadly, I was too sanguine. What we have in the White Paper is a compromise, a dog's breakfast, with diplomas only loosely attached to the old framework of blocks of examinations at 16 and 18. GCSE will even, we are told, be strengthened—I believe that is the word which is used—and so erect a further fatal barrier to yet more students to alienate and demoralise them.

I well remember years ago when the noble Lord, Lord Baker, was in charge of education telling him about my bright idea for graded tests and the phasing out of GCSE and A-level. He said, "Oh, no, we could not possibly do that. A-level is, after all, the gold standard". The number of times people have said that A-level is the gold standard are uncountable, but it is even less true now than it was in the days when the noble Lord, Lord Baker, used that phrase, perhaps for the first time. The metaphor will not do any longer. A-level is not the gold standard because too many people pass it at too high grades and it has become useless for either of its functions; namely, as a school leaving certificate or as an entry to university.

I fear that the White Paper would, if it were implemented in its present form, change very little. If GCSE and A-level are to remain as freestanding structural parts of education progress up the school, we are stuck with the rigid distinction between the sheep and the goats. Long, long ago, after the Butler Education Act, we used to be told that there should be parity of esteem between secondary modern and grammar schools and between CSE and O-level. But parity of esteem will not come about and cannot be brought into existence just by a ministerial promise that it should be so. We need an education revolution to provide chances for those who are now at the bottom of the scale of esteem and who put themselves lower and lower by their lack of interest, lack of ambition, failure to see where they can go next and what the next immediate education step is for them.

I believe that Tomlinson promised something like parity of esteem, which has apparently been turned down. I hope, however, that we can treat the White Paper as a beginning and not an end. I wish I could agree with the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, that there is not really all that much difference between what Tomlinson proposes and what the White Paper proposes. However, I believe that there is a huge difference and that that is a gap which we must fill somehow or other.


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