An 18-plus qualification combining the strengths of A level and advanced General National Vocational Qualification could be the long-term ambition of the Joint Council of National Vocational Awarding Bodies launched this week, according to Martin Cross, RSA Examinations Board chief executive.
Mr Cross, who chairs the council, said: "It would be good to get to a situation where we have an 18-plus qualification to which A levels and GNVQs contribute."
He said GNVQs have several advantages over A levels, notably the emphasis on core skills, and he rejected the term "vocational A level" because it "actually downgrades the GNVQ", which is equivalent to two A levels.
The immediate brief of the joint council, which links the RSA Examinations Board with City and Guilds and the Business and Technology Education Council, is to provide a core of consistent educational standards and to promote the profile of the GNVQ.
Figures released today show that the number of students enrolling on GNVQ courses has nearly doubled from 81,500 last year to 162,800 - equivalent to one in four 16-year-olds. The national target is for half the entrants to the workforce to have an advanced GNVQ or its equivalent by the end of the decade.
The joint council will set standards for the delivery, assessment and quality assurance of the GNVQs.
But Mr Cross said the council would avoid it becoming "too cosy an arrangement". The bodies would compete in the GNVQ market, and in the provision of support services and delivery to colleges.
Proof that competition would be fierce came this week with the launch of BTEC's first television advertising campaign to promote its GNVQs. BTEC is the youngest of the three awarding bodies and the largest provider of GNVQ programmes. The 40-second advert appeared during Don't Forget Your Toothbrush and News at Ten.