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Future of A-levels looks bac

Advisers are set to put forward 14 to 19 proposals - but will they be radical enough? Warwick Mansell reports

THE first detailed proposals for an English baccalaureate to succeed A-levels will be put to Mike Tomlinson's inquiry into the future of 14-19 education later this spring.

Ann Hodgson and Ken Spours, of London University's Institute of Education, are to recommend replacing A-levels, GCSEs and vocational qualifications with a four-stage bac diploma.

To qualify for an advanced diploma, or bac, all students would have to take a common "core", including completing an extended research project and lessons in critical thinking and theory of knowledge.

Specialist units in the bac would include traditional academic, school and college-based vocational courses and work-centred learning.

The system would be modular, with students progressing from entry level through foundation and intermediate awards, the equivalent of today's GCSE.

External assessment would be reduced and GCSE and AS-level equivalent courses would be shortened to allow for greater breadth of study.

The authors say that the model would be designed to ensure pupils continued to study more challenging subjects such as modern foreign languages and maths for longer than at present. Students wanting to achieve a bac at advanced level might need to have passed a range of subjects, including a language, at intermediate level.

However, the model rejects a key element of some bac systems, notably the international baccalaureate, by allowing students a free choice over which subjects they specialise in at advanced level.

There would be no requirement to study, for example, both an arts and a science subject at advanced level. Some critics will argue, therefore, that the new model is not radical enough to address concerns over the narrowness of A-levels.

The proposals are to be put forward in two books, to be published in May.

They will carry much weight with ministers as Dr Spours is a member of the team, led by former chief inspector Mike Tomlinson, whose task is to review 14-19 education. Dr Hodgson is an associate of the taskforce which will report to the Government by next summer.

The authors propose that changes be implemented over a 10-year period, following extensive debate. Higher education providers and employers would have a key role in designing the new qualifications.

The authors are critical of the Government's Curriculum 2000 reforms, which introduced the AS-level and which were attacked last week by chief inspector David Bell, as badly-planned. "The enduring message from Curriculum 2000 is that piecemeal reform with no clear direction has the potential to cause the greatest turbulence of all to the education system," they write.

"What is needed now is clarity of purpose and direction, beginning with an inclusive and open debate based on policy learning and vision.

"It is time we stopped harking back to qualifications designed for a small elite in the 1950s, moved beyond A-levels and focused on creating a modern and inclusive curriculum and qualifications system for all 14 to 19-year-olds."

FEFocus, 34 "The Baccalaureate: a Model for Curriculum Reform" edited by Graham Phillips and Tim Pound and "Beyond 2000: Curriculum 2000 and the Reform of 14-19 Qualifications" by Ann Hodgson and Ken Spours, are published in May by Kogan Page, tel: 020 7843 1946

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