A blueprint for a unified qualifications framework for 14- to 19-year-olds will be unveiled today at the Association for Teachers and Lecturers' annual conference.
Delegates are to debate the union's portfolio scheme, which would not replace GCSEs, A levels, GNVQs or NVQs, but seek to embrace them in an umbrella certificate.
The ATL believes the idea of a portfolio at three levels foundation, intermediate and advanced - would make the distinction between academic and vocational routes redundant. Modularised courses and units in a more flexible regime would contribute to the overall qualification. A unified structure would need a system of parity across all the different styles of course and assessment, so that students could accumulate units and exams from the age of 14.
Peter Smith, ATL general secretary, said: "The use of a portfolio would permit recognition of the effort made by young people without making a value-laden judgement about the nature of their course or training. Within a single framework we see an opportunity to recognise consistency of achievement in all sectors."
The scheme would mean the creation of a single body to have authority over the accreditation of all qualifications.
Mr Smith added: "The political failure on the part of those who call A levels the gold standard is to ignore that there are other precious metals. The real question is, is it better for a young adult to have a portfolio which authentically describes what they have achieved and what their potential is, or is it better to have a set of grades after their name where some people will regard A levels as inherently better than a GNVQ even if the GNVQ was at a higher level."
He added that a portfolio approach would give university admissions officers a better profile of candidates.
"Universities are saying they want young people with a width of knowledge and that post-16 education is excessively narrow. But at the same time the current selection process reinforces that very narrowness."