Sixth-formers to take Harry Potter test

It is enough to leave traditionalists spluttering into their tea – Harry Potter is about to be placed on the school curriculum.

In a move bound to fuel "dumbing-down" accusations, sixth-formers will be able to write a thesis on the fictitious boy wizard alongside their A-levels, the head of the country's biggest exam board said today.

The books by J K Rowling may have sold in their millions, but critics have sniped that they are not as well written as they might be. Nevertheless, from next month, around 3,000 students in more than 100 schools and colleges will be starting a new English baccalaureate which will, as one of its topics, invite students to complete a 5,000-word essay answering the question, "Would Harry Potter have been so successful 30 years ago?"

The baccalaureate has been devised by the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), in line with reforms suggested by the former chief inspector of schools Sir Mike Tomlinson. Negotiations are under way to see whether it can be awarded points that would count towards university admission.

There is some comfort for traditionalists. Another of the questions will ask students to write about "the influence of Russian history on the writings of George Orwell". Pupils also need to complete community service, work experience and an AS-level to qualify for the extra qualification.

"It's developing the kind of skills that higher education and employers say they need," said Dr Mike Cresswell, chief executive of AQA. "There's evidence of independent research and personal development."

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