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New look for A-levels

A-levels are to undergo yet another re-vamp, the Government will announce this week.

But all questions of radical change will be postponed, despite six months of consultation on sixth-form studies.

The news will disappoint campaigners for a broad-based baccalaureate including many in the Department for Education and Employment who have been lobbying to scrap the "gold standard" A-level.

Under the new proposals each A-level will be broken into six parts made up of two three-unit AS-levels.

This gives the qualification the same structure as the vocational GNVQ - also made up of six units - a move which should enable students to "mix and match" qualifications from academic and vocational pathways.

Students who achieve well in either qualification will be eligible for a new post-16 certificate, viewed as a half-way house to a baccalaureate.

There will also be a new sixth- form qualification in "key skills", stressing students' grasp of communication, application of number and information technology.

In essence, the Government will back Sir Ron Dearing's 1996 recommendations on 16-19 qualifications. His mammoth report proposed breaking down exams into bite-size chunks so that students achieve something for their efforts, even if they fall short of a full qualification.

He also suggested re-structuring exam courses so that different sorts of exam can be seen as comparable - A-levels and GNVQs for example.

Ministers announced the latest consultation soon after it took office last year, postponing implementation of Sir Ron's report.

There will, however, be few changes.

Despite misgivings about the A-level, the DFEE does not want to divert attention from basic literacy and numeracy.

The plans are, however, different in Wales where an all-embracing post-16 framework for qualifications is envisaged in a new green paper. This would cover schools, colleges and universities.

FE focus, page 29

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