england could soon have a home-grown version of the baccalaureate, The TES can reveal. AQA, Britain's largest exam board, is investigating setting up its own version in the face of growing demand from schools for alternatives to A-levels.
The move is likely to come under fire from rivals. Edexcel, the second largest board, said the exams system was fragmenting and becoming more confusing.
The Prime Minister last week endorsed the International Baccalaureate (IB), offered by 95 schools in the United Kingdom and run by a Geneva-based organisation. He wants at least one school in every local authority to offer the IB by 2010.
Although discussions are at an early stage, a home-grown version could be more attractive to some schools. The IB comes with heavy overheads. It costs Pounds 3,000-pound;4,000 a year for schools to be accredited, and approval to start offering the courses can take two years.
Schools have to have their facilities and teaching expertise checked by international experts, who are flown in at the school's expense. And teachers have to attend regular IB training courses, many of which are also overseas.
AQA would not say whether its version would be cheaper. But the board has experience running exams taken by hundreds of thousands of pupils.
An English bac would increase to four the number of post-16 courses which will soon be competing with A-levels. It would join the IB; the Government's new specialised diploma; and "the pre-U" - resembling a pre-Curriculum 2000 version of A-levels - which will be on offer from 2008.
Wales already has its own baccalaureate, though this incorporates A-levels and vocational exams, rather than replacing them.
England's other two exam boards have no plans to offer a baccalaureate.
Edexcel described them as an "elitist" qualification.
Mike Cresswell, AQA's director general, also called this week for the Government to introduce new A* grades for A-levels in 2008, two years earlier than planned.
Dr Cresswell told AQA's annual A-level student of the year awards that it was possible to introduce the grades earlier, so current Year 12 students could receive them, by analysing results to identify the highest-performing students.
However, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said it would be impossible to speed up the introduction of A* grades. The exams regulator is trialling harder questions to use from 2010.
Meanwhile the Cambridge Assessment exam board has accused the Government of trying to encourage teachers to reject international GCSEs. The board has accused ministers of framing questions in its consultation to get a negative response.
It is particularly unhappy about a question asking schools if they think the exam will help them "meet the assessment objectives of the national curriculum", which is not a purpose of the qualification.
The DfES denies the accusation.