A proposed merger of two examination boards is set to close the gulf between academic and vocational qualifications.
The University of London Examinations and Assessment Council and the Business and Technology Education Council announced this week that they will be working towards a merger by the end of the year.
ULEAC, the oldest examination board, founded in 1838, receives 1.2 million entries per year, including 150,000 A level entries. BTEC, the youngest examination board, founded in 1983, commands nearly 70 per cent of the market for general national vocational qualifications, sometimes called vocational A levels. The boards insisted this week that ULEAC's A and AS levels will remain in place, as will BTEC's GNVQs and work-based NVQs.
Closer cooperation will lead to a rationalisation of course content, so that students can prepare for higher education by choosing a "pick and mix" combination of A levels and GNVQs which are complementary rather than overlapping. Christina Townsend, chief executive of BTEC, cited the example of a student preparing for a medical career by taking A level biology and a GNVQ in health and social care.
ULEAC is school-based, exam-oriented and centrally-organised, while BTEC is college-based, coursework-oriented and regionally-organised. Together, they will form the most wide-ranging examination board.
Tony Smith, chief executive of ULEAC, said: "Under one roof, there will be room for courses as varied as Latin and engineering, Greek and manufacturing."
Sir Michael Lickiss, BTEC's chairman, said the move was "a long-term strategy rather than a short-term fix". A business plan is being drawn up, and further high-level talks will take place over the next three months.
A key hurdle for the possible merger will be getting approval from London University's Council. A merger is likely to lead to substantial savings, and Peter Holwell, principal of London University, said the unified board would make "a multi-million pound investment" in syllabus and assessment development.
The National Council for Vocational Qualifications welcomed the announcement: a merger is expected to add academic credibility to the GNVQ.
The action by the boards is intended to chime with Sir Ron Dearing's review of qualifications for 16-19 year olds which is expected to develop proposals for a unified qualifications framework.