THERE is no clear vision in the government's consultation paper on the future of qualifications for 16 to 19-year-olds, educationists said this week.
Qualifying for Success, published last week, leaves the door open for a new French baccalaureate-style advanced level qualification by 2001, despite a commitment to preserving A levels.
Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education and employment research at Brunel University, said: "The document is like a tax return: it asks a lot of questions but provides very few pointers."
Professor Smithers said that the government-planned "overarching certificate" could still look very similar to a baccalaureate - allowing "mix and match" study.
Michael Young, of the Institute of Education's post-16 centre, said that the government was "still searching for a vision" but that teachers and university admissions officers wanted a clear lead.
The paper spells out the government's commitment to creating clear parity of esteem between the vocational and academic routes into higher education - the A level and the GNVQ. It reopens the question of naming the Advanced GNVQ the Applied A level, and it suggests new three- and six-unit GNVQs, which would be directly equivalent to an A level and the new Advanced Subsidiary-level.
The government also proposes to realign GNVQ and A-level grading scales, so they are directly equivalent, and clear to admissions officers.
It proposes a greater use of modular A levels, and to encourage students to sit more AS-levels, and units of GNVQs and NVQs at the same time.
Radical proposals aim to ensure that all 16 to 19-year-olds gain new qualifications in numeracy, literacy and IT. This includes an option to link "levels of student support in higher education to prior attainment of key skills", or to make them mandatory.
The government defended the future of A levels. "They continue to represent the main route into higher education for 16-18-year olds. " A new system should be ready by September 1999, it said.