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Brightest will skip GCSEs

Blunkett agrees to let able 14-year-olds take AS-level modern language courses. Sarah Cassidy reports

HIGH-FLYING 14-year-olds will be able to ditch compulsory GCSEs and start their A-levels early from September under plans approved by the Education Secretary.

David Blunkett has agreed that talented 14 to 16-year-olds can take AS-level courses in modern languages. Taking the AS-level at 16 would allow gifted students to go on to take the A-level a year early.

The recent Nuffield language inquiry highlighted the decline in students taking modern language A-levels. John Trafford, president of the Association for Language Learning, said: "We are not producing enough specialist linguists in this country. Any move towards encouraging gifted linguists to continue with languages is to be welcomed. But it remains to be seen whether this will achieve that."

In a similar move, budding designers will also be able to skip the general design and technology GCSE course and begin AS-levels at 14 from September.

Mr Blunkett's reforms will also affect less able or disaffected pupils. Currently, these pupils can drop two subjects out of science, modern languages and design and technology to spend up to a day a week in the workplace. Now these students will be able to use the time freed up y dropping GCSEs to focus on practical skills. For the first time, they will be able to take vocational language courses, previously only available to post-16 learners, as a practical alternative to language GCSEs.

Moreover, from September these pupils can take a practical science course which is equivalent to four GCSEs. Mr Blunkett has approved two general national vocational qualification science courses for 14-year-olds from September. Like the vocational language courses, these were previously banned for this age group.

The idea is to allow 14-year-olds not motivated by conventional exams to have access to vocational courses currently only available to sixth-formers and college students. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority hopes the use of vocational courses for 14-year-olds could be extended.

The reforms aim to satisfy Mr Blunkett's desire for increased flexibility at key stage 4.

But ministers are keen to stress pupils will not be able to drop GCSEs easily. When they do, schools must report the fact to the Department for Education and Employment.

The regulations on dropping GCSEs were recently extended to include the most able teenagers who want to focus on particular subjects. They can drop modern languages or design to do this, but not science.

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