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Shake-up of A-levels would test `core skills'



A-level arts students will have to study maths and information technology under proposals put forward in a government White Paper to be published today, while science and maths students will have to take English.

The White Paper on competitiveness insists that by 2000 all 16- to 19- year-olds must be taught and assessed on three "core skills" of literacy, numeracy and information technology.

The plans, to form part of new education and training targets, show the Government is responding to long-standing demands from schools, academics and employers to broaden the post-16 curriculum.

They are also a reply to complaints from both employers and academics that an exam qualification in English and maths does not necessarily mean that young people can spell or add up.

In some cases, core skills might form part of the A-level subject being studied. For example, students taking English would almost certainly be able to have their literacy assessed through their course.

But those studying maths and sciences would be assessed separately on their literacy. And students taking arts subjects would be required to prove their mathematical competence through a separate test. So students would need at least a basic knowledge in more subjects than at present.

Students studying advanced General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs), work-related courses equivalent of two A-levels, are already assessed on three core skills. One possibility would be for A-level students to take the relevant core skills unit in the GNVQ courses.

That would help to achieve the Government's aim of ensuring equal status for vocational and academic qualifications.

Sir Ron Dearing, the Government's chief adviser on exams, is reviewing ways of broadening the curriculum for 16- to 19-year-olds in line with that in Scotland and other European countries. Sir Ron is also considering the relationship between vocational and academic courses.

The White Paper will produce new and more challenging targets for education and training than its predecessor last year. That said 80 per cent of young people should achieve the equivalent of five GCSEs at grades A-C by 1997, and by 2000, 50 per cent should gain the equivalent of two A- levels. The new rules about core skills would apply to all 16-year-olds beginning courses in 1998.

An attempt to introduce core skills into exams five years ago failed because of the difficulties of including numeracy, for example, in A- level subjects such as Latin and religious education.

However, supporters of the new proposals believe thatGNVQs, with inbuilt core skills, may help solve the problem. Exam boards have begun work on how much of each core skill is already present in A-levels.