A Labour government will accept the bulk of proposals expected in Sir Ron Dearing's report on 16-19 qualifications, a leaked party document shows.
Sir Ron is due to report on March and Labour is also close to publication. A draft version of the party statement Aiming Higher: Excellence For All From 14 to 19 And Beyond shows Labour where possible citing Sir Ron's interim report as support for its own proposals - although there is no reference to his expected proposal that some pupils be allowed to leave school at 14 to undertake work-based study.
The document says Labour's priority is to "develop a post-16 curriculum structure that provides high standards, flexibility and the ability to combine different areas of study." A longer-term aspiration across the 14 to 19 range is "an integrated and unified approach which breaks down the historic and artificial divide that has existed for too long in this country between academic and vocational planning."
It sets a long-term target of 80 per cent of 21-year-olds achieving advanced level qualifications, against the 60 per cent national target set for the year 2000.
It plans to achieve this through a unified qualifications framework run by a single body created by merging the School Curriculum Assessment Authority and the National Council for Vocational Qualifications.
A levels, GNVQs and NVQs, would be retained and reformed - with GNVQs renamed, in a striking echo of Dearing, Applied A levels. But they would be brought together in a single modularised Advanced Diploma structure. This would allow students to mix different types of qualification while accumulating credits towards entry to university.
It says that A levels need to be broadened, but this need not be at the expense of depth - citing Dearing's comment that French and German courses take up to 30 taught hours per week against 18 per week for a typical three A-level programme. Students could also be taught a wider range of subjects in their first post-16 year - although the AS level experiment is condemned as "an obvious failure" - and the brightest could be encouraged to take higher-level courses. A core skills element, developed by a dedicated Core Skills Unit, should be incorporated.
GNVQs would be redesigned as well as renamed, with the assessment regime simplified and their scope broadened by the introduction of a core of knowledge and theory.