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Bac-style exam is rejected by group

Right to subject choice too embedded in British sixth-form culture, decides taskforce. Warwick Mansell reports

A key government taskforce investigating the future of secondary education has rejected introducing a continental-style baccalaureate exam.

The group, led by Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector, has decided that the tradition of allowing students to choose their subjects in the sixth form will be retained. This makes it virtually impossible to characterise the radical reforms, which are to be put forward by the group in detail next month, as an "English baccalaureate".

The group is also to propose a huge reduction in the amount of coursework required when the second report of its 18-month inquiry is published next month.

The introduction of a baccalaureate for English schools has been under consideration since the outcry over A-level regrading last autumn. In the summer, the taskforce's initial report revealed that the group was undecided about how much choice to allow youngsters in deciding their courses.

While British A-levels give students free choice of subject, under the French and international baccalaureate systems, all students have to study their first language, a second language, maths and other subjects. Breadth of study is seen as a strength of continental systems, whereas A-levels are renowned for their depth.

The TES understands that, in its second report, the group will reject the idea of forcing youngsters to study particular subjects in the sixth form.

It is proposing a four-level diploma exam to replace A-levels and GCSEs. It is likely that youngsters will have to have passed courses in English and maths to qualify for an advanced diploma, which will be the school- leaving exam.

But this need only be at intermediate, or GCSE-equivalent, level.

Sixth-form freedom of choice will not be withdrawn.

The taskforce is also likely to recommend that all coursework is scrapped under the new diploma system. Instead, students would complete an extended research project at both intermediate and advanced levels, in a subject of their own choice.

Diplomas would be assessed through a mixture of conventional exams and teacher assessment of students' routine work in lessons.

The group is aware of the difficulty, should teacher assessment become a major feature of the new system, of ensuring that the public has trust in teachers' judgments of their students' achievements.

It wants teachers who are particularly skilled in assessment to be recognised as chartered examiners or assessors. The group will spend next spring and summer working out the detail of its proposals before making final recommendations to ministers next summer. Any changes are unlikely to be implemented before the end of the decade.

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