Broader choice for 16-19s

April 10, 1998

The government has announced changes to the 16-19 curriculum aimed at increasing breadth and flexibility. But the changes only go part way to establishing the national qualifications framework recommended by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

The QCA carried out the consultation exercise on the 16-19 curriculum for the government. QCA chairman Sir William Stubbs said in a letter to education secretary David Blunkett: "There was support for structuring qualifications in terms of units of credit to allow for easier access, greater interchangeability and the recognition of smaller steps in attainment."

But many of the curriculum changes announced last week by education minister Baroness Blackstone are not conducive to credit accumulation. A levels will continue to be available in the traditional linear form, without modules. In modular courses, only one re-sit will be allowed, and all modular A-level courses will include an end-of-year exam covering the whole syllabus.

But Baroness Blackstone said: "The QCA should undertake further work on the implications of a unit-based credit framework." The QCA will report in December 1998.

The main changes announced last week, to be implemented by September 2000, are: l a three-unit advanced subsidiary qualification, representing the first half of an A level, to allow students to sit a wider range of subjects l advanced level GNVQs, equivalent to two A levels, will be revised to include a new six-unit qualification equivalent to an A level l a key skills qualification, covering application of number, communication and information technology, will be introduced progressively if pilots are successful.

A French-style baccalaureate, and the scrapping of the A level, have been rejected.

Plans for a national qualifications framework have already provoked criticism. Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education and employment studies at Brunel University, said: "Unit-based systems greatly increase complexity and bureaucracy. Qualifications are a valuable currency. If students are collecting a unit here and a unit there, they are not getting a full qualification for anything."

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