Ministers ponder French style A-levels

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The Independent Online
New A-level exams will be delayed for a year while ministers consider plans for broadening the sixth-form curriculum, which could include a version of the continental-style "baccalaureate".

The postponement, which is expected to be announced tomorrow, has been prompted by fears that the revised A-levels will fail to ensure that sixth formers take a wide range of subjects. One idea under discussion is a version of the French baccalaureate which would require pupils to take a variety of science and arts subjects as a basis for university entry. At present, entry is usually through three A-levels.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, is particularly keen that, under the new system, vocational qualifications should have the same status as A-levels.

Changes in A-levels, including a new exam after one year's study, were due to be introduced for pupils entering the sixth form in September 1998.

They were recommended by Sir Ron Dearing who reviewed all qualifications for 16-19-year-olds for the last government .

He proposed that the sixth-form curriculum should be broadened by encouraging students to take five ''A-S'' exams, equivalent to the first year of a traditional A-level course, before deciding which two or three subjects they wished to pursue to A-level. .

Sixth-formers would be able to qualify for a new advanced diploma by taking a range of subjects, including a mixture of arts and sciences and, possibly, academic and vocational qualifications. The new diploma would not be compulsory and ministers worry that universities would ignore it.

There is a debate within the Government about how radical the changes should be. Downing Street is thought to be anxious to avoid the accusation that it is watering down A-level.

Government sources last night played down the delay. "There is not going to be a radical overhaul. We want to look at how we ensure that those doing A-level are doing something a bit broader. We are not looking at grandiose schemes for a British bac."

The new framework is still expected to include important elements of Sir Ron's work. Under his proposals, exam boards had to rewrite syllabuses which were delivered to the Government's exam advisers for vetting only last week. Both schools and academics have protested at the haste in which the syllabuses have had to be prepared. The first new A-S levels were scheduled for 1999 and the A-level a year later.

John Dunford, past president of the Secondary Heads Association, said headteachers would welcome the postponement. "There was no way we could have introduced this in time for 1998.

"We would be sorry to lose the new one-year A-S exam but it is a price we would be prepared to pay for a longer more radical review which would bring academic and vocational qualifications together in a single structure."