THES reporters examine the A-level crisis and look at options being considered.
Academics are working on an English Baccalaureate to replace the beleaguered A level. Schools standards minister David Miliband is keeping a close eye on their progress.
The qualification, which would combine vocational and academic routes, fitting in with the government's widening participation agenda, has been proposed by academics at the Institute of Education.
Ken Spours, senior lecturer in post-16 education at the institute, said:
"The International Baccalaureate, currently being proposed, is very school-based and would do nothing for vocational education or meeting the government's 50 per cent participation target."
The institute held a seminar this week to discuss the proposals. It was attended by government advisers, although Mr Miliband, who was a co-author with Dr Spours of a report in 1990 proposing a "British Baccalauréat", was not able to be present.
"What I can say is that David Miliband wants to produce a stable long-term solution," Dr Spours said. "One of the clear lessons from Curriculum 2000 is that all stakeholders, especially higher education, should be involved in the design of the English Bac."
The proposed system would start at 14 and aim to provide a "transparent, flexible and rigorous" system of education and training for all. It would consist of a series of interlocking diplomas from entry, through foundation and intermediate to the advanced bac.
Existing qualifications would be re-engineered to fit the system, which would cover both full-time and work-based learning. Students taking the advanced bac would be able to do the general bac or specialist bacs.
"The general education versions (of the specialist bacs) would reflect individual subject specialisation, while the vocational version would be grouped to support the coherent combinations of vocational learning required by employer organisations," the consultation document says.
All the bacs would contain a compulsory core plus free choice specialist subjects. Like the International Baccalaureate, it would include a record of wider activities such as community service. AS levels would be revised. "We would abandon the idea that they represent half an A level and this would mean an immediate reduction in exams," Dr Spours said.
David Robertson, professor of public policy and education at Liverpool John Moores University, said: "It is true that the International Baccalaureate is too elitist and not a vehicle for mass entry to higher education, but the answer is not to develop an English Bac but to adopt the French Bac. It is a very successful qualification that facilitates entry of the elite to the grandes écoles and to higher education in general."
The consultation document proposes a ten-year timescale.
A Department for Education and Skills spokesperson said: "We're not talking about change next year or even the year after. This is a long and evolutionary process. We have to have a national consensus for change."