The Tomlinson report, on education for 14- to 19-year-olds, published yesterday, was preceded by more leaks than London's aging drainage system. But while most would accept that our Victorian waterworks need a radical overhaul, there are some who would not only like to leave our examination system alone but to turn the clock back 25 years or more. And while their views are in a minority, their voices make major reform of education difficult to introduce.
In the main Tomlinson has been well received. His careful study of the problem of the qualifications on offer to the teenagers of England and Wales has led him to conclude that they take too many exams and that we are losing too many young people from formal education at 16 in comparison with most other western nations. He has acknowledged, also, that some universities have a tough time using A-levels to decide who to take and who to reject.
His solution is a four-tiered diploma system that allows pupils to progress along broadly defined pathways, both vocational and academic, between the ages of 14 and 19. As with most of Europe, the United States and Australia the school leaving qualification now moves to 18 rather than our anomalous one at 16 - the GCSE. The idea of matriculation is also re-introduced under Tomlinson, that is that unless a certain standard is achieved, the given level of diploma is not awarded. And perhaps most importantly he has recommended a lengthy trial and introductory period to iron out any problems before wholesale introduction.
Leaving aside the obvious caveat that the devil lies in the detail, and this has yet to be fleshed out, it is hard to disagree with either Tomlinson's conclusions about the flaws or his solutions to them. But his intelligent analysis has provoked vociferous, and ill-informed, criticism from the two sources that this Labour government fear most - business and the Daily Mail.
The universities, schools, both state and independent, and the teaching unions - from the NUT to the Secondary Heads Association - have broadly welcomed the proposals. The CBI and the erstwhile schools' inspector Chris Woodhead have attacked Tomlinson in their various ways for being liberal or progressive. The CBI wanted a much tougher line on the basics while those champions of a right wing education agenda, such as Woodhead, seemed to think that by keeping the name A-level, high standards would be ensured. The difficulty with the gripes from this particular quarter is that they never offer a constructive alternative. They are …