05/04/2012 11:37 BST | Updated 18/04/2012 08:17 BST

Michael Gove's University A-Level Takeover Plans Will See Children Suffer, Say Critics

Children's education is suffering as a result of Michael Gove and his department being blinded by the notion university is the "golden route" of education, experts are arguing.

Their comments come after it was revealed the education secretary had written to Ofqual to propose handing universities the power to set A-levels. The plan was publicly backed by the exams watchdog, provoking outrage from teachers, politicians and unions.

Ian Mearns MP, a member of the education select committee, told the Huffington Post UK there was a "range of contradictions" in the government's education policy.

"Are A-levels an end in themselves, are they to prepare students for the work place, or are they a stepping stone to Higher Education? The government does not even seem to know themselves.

"Gove needs to think about all the possibilities for young people, not university - and he needs to develop exams for the whole range of children and not just a select few.

"If A-levels are viewed as a measure of which university to go to, what about those who don't want to go to university but who want to progress further?"

Mearns added politicians had to have aspirations "for all young people", regardless of their higher education plans.

But founder of Apprenticeship England Peter Cobrin believes the problems run deeper.

"There is a hostility towards vocational qualifications," he told HuffPost.

Cobrin cites the JCB academy as an example, saying the students, who study engineering, were achieving higher English and maths marks than those in conventional education.

But, as part of Michael Gove's assassination on vocational qualifications and "soft subjects", the academy's diploma is now only equivalent to one GCSE.

"A-levels are not just a preparation for university, which is exactly how Gove is treating them."

According to Cobrin, an increasing number of students are choosing not to go to university and opting for apprenticeships instead. "They should be studying what is appropriate for them, not what will prepare them for university."

"Vocational qualifications are being banished quicker than Gove's credibility," he adds.

"Post-16 qualifications, whether they are A-levels or BTechs, have to have equal priority. The assumption university is by default the best route is wrong. The message to young people is very clear: they only have one option."

Spencer Mehlman, managing director of Notgoingtouni agrees. "Tailoring exams for university makes it more difficult for young people who want to do other schemes. I question the rationality and validity of the plans; there are plenty of young people who want to do A-levels but who don't want to go to university.

"Why tailor a whole system to the needs of the minority?"

Cobrin dismisses arguments for and against universities setting A-levels, saying who sets the exams is "irrelevant".

"It is missing the point. The proposal is a knee-jerk reaction to the exam cheating scandal."

The former teacher argues Gove is transferring the responsibility from private examining bodies to universities in order to quell public concerns over the current system but the secretary of state is failing to address the root problem.

"Many schools have a hidden agenda. They are legally obliged to provide impartial guidance to students about considering other options for post-16 study. But for them, the more bums on seats the better; if they lose a sixth former to a Further Education college, they lose money.

"It's as simple as that."

Not only is the issue of giving objective education advice a problem for Cobrin but the value placed on A-levels also comes under fire.

"There is a continual relentless focus on A-levels as a gold standard and everything else is sub-standard.

"You try getting into university with anything else than an A-level. It's practically impossible."