The government will pay to train teachers in 100 schools nationwide to offer the International Baccalaureate, the Prime Minister announced yesterday.
It will double the number of British schools offering the exam, for which sixth-formers must study both arts and science subjects, and will make it available to teenagers in every local authority by 2010.
Tony Blair's final move in nine years of "education, education, education"
reforms came under immediate fire, however, for undermining A-levels.
In a speech billed as a farewell to teachers, Mr Blair also said schools should foster in students the softer skills of research and independent thinking, which are a feature of the baccalaureate, but are absent from A-levels.
Sir Mike Tomlinson, who led a review that proposed incorporating A-levels into a baccalaureate-type diploma system, said that by endorsing the IB but rejecting more fundamental reform, Mr Blair risked setting up a hierarchy of schools.
Many teachers will question why the Government rejected the 2004 Tomlinson report.
Ian Andain, the headteacher of Broadgreen high school in Liverpool, which offers the baccalaureate to pupils across the city, said: "What was wanted was a seamless qualification system to the age of 18. Instead, we have this division, with some schools specialising in IBs, some in diplomas, some with A-levels. It's the worst possible position for post-16 students."
The Prime Minister's speech to the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust conference in Birmingham was intended to point a way forward to his successor.
Mr Blair said the Government wanted the baccalaureate to be available to students nationwide, by ensuring at least one secondary school or sixth form college in every local authority provided it.
Teachers would need to be trained to teach the philosophical theory of knowledge course which is central to the exam, to teach pupils research skills and how to carry out internal assessment.
Mr Blair also doubled the target for the number of academies to 400, which would be more than one in 10 secondary schools.
400 new academies, page 4 Mr Blair answers you, page 14-15