Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Tomlinson 2.0: Sir Mike Calls for KS3 Assessment

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Tomlinson 2.0: Sir Mike Calls for KS3 Assessment

Article excerpt

And his 2005 report may have inspired Labour's 14-19 plans

The architect of a landmark plan to radically overhaul 14-19 education has called for new national assessments for 14-year-olds.

Sir Mike Tomlinson (pictured below), whose vision of a baccalaureate-style system was rejected by the Labour government a decade ago, said new certificates were needed at the end of Year 9 because it had increasingly become a point of departure for pupils transferring to a more vocational curriculum.

His comments came days after shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt revealed that he favoured moving towards a baccalaureate-style "14-19 curriculum and qualification framework", incorporating academic and technical education.

The Labour MP has reportedly acknowledged that his vision owes much to the Tomlinson recommendations, which were turned down in 2005 by prime minister at the time Tony Blair, despite widespread support from across the education sector.

Mr Hunt has questioned the future of GCSEs, saying he "would not be surprised, or indeed saddened" if, in a decade's time, the government had started to phase them out. Sir Mike also believes the GCSE's existence should be debated.

Reflecting on his 2004 blueprint for 14-19 education, Sir Mike explained to TES how he would update it for today. His backing for national assessments for 14-year-olds is the most eye-catching departure from earlier proposals.

He said: "At the age of 14, young people will increasingly choose subjects and pathways, and what I think is at least worth discussing is: should we have some sort of certification at the end of key stage 3, particularly around subjects they are no longer going to study?

"It would be a progress check for moving post-14 and it would also be a recognition of any achievement, attainment and progress in subjects they are no longer going to study."

The new checks could be largely teacher-assessed, with external moderation, Sir Mike added, but they needed to be nationally recognised and supervised if they were to have "credibility with the student, the parent and employers".

Much of Mr Hunt's latest thinking sounds uncannily similar to the approach being advocated by Sir Mike: they both agree on the reasons for change, the raising of the compulsory education and training age to 18, and 14 emerging as the age when pupils decide to take an academic, technical or vocational route.

They also appear to agree on the solution of an overarching 14-19 baccalaureate encompassing all "pathways".

Sir Mike said that although he had not spoken directly to Mr Hunt, he had been in touch with the two major parties and added that Labour's plan was "good to hear".

The end of GCSEs?

In 2005 it was a looming general election that apparently persuaded Mr Blair to reject much of the Tomlinson plan. The Conservatives had, late in the day, dropped their support for the proposals and instead campaigned to save the A-level. Mr Blair, fearing that being seen to axe the "gold standard" qualification would lose him votes, rejected what many regarded as a once-in-a-generation chance to change education for the better.

But Sir Mike, appointed by the government last year as education commissioner for Birmingham in the wake of the "Trojan Horse" controversy, said that he never gave up on his ideas. Nor, he told TES, did the schools, colleges, universities and employers he still speaks to. "Unlike many things that are over 10 years old, there is still a view out there that an opportunity was missed," he said.

A decade on, in the countdown to another general election, the Labour front bench now appears to back the Tomlinson vision as a vote winner. …

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