THE Archbishop of Canterbury has voiced concerns about the possible unintended consequences of introducing the new English Baccalaureate exam to replace GCSEs.

The Right Reverand Justin Welby said the history of education reforms in England suggested that there was a risk that the new exam would devalue more vocational qualifications.

Archbishop Welby said: " I think the E. Bacc is excellent, it's far less narrow than A-levels but my concern is that it must not derail technical and vocational education. Our own history is of that happening even if it is unintentional. This has got to be done in a way so academic and vocational qualifications are of equivalent value."

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Education Secretary Michael Gove triggered widespread criticism from teaching unions last year when he announced plans for a massive shake-up of post-14 examinations.

Mr Gove believes the new exam - which will eventually consist of English, maths, science, history, geography and a foreign language - will raise standards.

The Archbishop voiced his concerns after taking part in a question and answer session with local schools during a Foundation For Jobs event at the Cummins engineering factory in Darlington.

During the session Sue Richardson, executive principal from The Education Village, in Darlington, asked the Archbishop whether he shared her concerns that the new exam could devalue vocational examinations.

After the meeting Mrs Richardson told The Northern Echo: "We offer a range of B Tec courses which really motivate children, particularly in engineering There is a severe shortage of engineering skill nationally and our youngsters see this very meaningful link between study in school and a potential career. That is a very strong motivation when you are 14."

Mrs Richardson added: "If the Government pursues the ntion that the only meaningful qualifications are GCSEs, which have an academic basis, it devalues any other vocational course and that is not helpful for anyone, especially our future workforce."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "The English Baccalaureate recognises achievement in the subjects which employers and universities value. Other subjects are of course valuable and pupils will continue to study them.

"We also want young people to have the option of high quality vocational education. That is why we are investing in University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools which offer practical education combined with work experience. We have also announced a new Technical Baccalaureate which will recognise achievement in the best vocational qualifications."