The Government has launched a review of qualifications for 16- to 19-year-olds which could transform courses preparing young people for higher education.
Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education, has called for the exploration of options to make study in sixth forms and further education colleges broader and more coherent without compromising standards.
She has asked Sir Ron Dearing, chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, to carry out the review, working closely with Michael Heron, chairman of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, and consulting widely in education, training and business.
She told the annual conference of the Secondary Heads Association at its annual meeting at Warwick University that Sir Ron would give an initial outline in the summer of the issues he was considering and how they should be tackled, with more detailed advice by this time next year.
The Secretary of State said the Government wanted to look at why many students still failed to complete their courses.
It also wanted to investigate whether school and college resources could be better used to enable young people to "mix and match" qualifications such as A levels and the new "vocational A level", the level 3 General National Vocational Qualification.
Other areas Sir Ron might explore include the development of some kind of hybrid qualification, using GNVQ units and modules from A levels, a growing number of which are being modularised.
John Hillier, NCVQ chief executive, said GNVQ units had been designed so that they could be interchangeable with A-level modules.
But he thought one of the main problems Sir Ron would have to address was the restrictions many young people faced on the range of courses available to them.
"In some areas of the country it is impossible to take an A level at school and a GNVQ at the local further education college because the funding methodology has been interpreted as encouraging competition rather than collaboration between institutions," he said.
* The Labour Party also plans a review of post-16 qualifications. Bryan Davies, Labour's further and higher education spokesman, has assembled a think tank to look at ways of broadening the party's plans for a new further education qualification.
It will also be examining the prospects of involving students, employers and the state in a new "learning bank" system for funding post-16 courses.