A vocational version of the international baccalaureate is to be taught in schools in Britain, creating a major competitor to the Government's 14-19 diplomas.
The international baccalaureate career-related certificate is due to be available from 2011. It will appeal to schools that believe the brand may impress parents and employers more than the diplomas, which struggled to attract students when they launched this term.
The certificate will require students to take a vocational course, such as a Btec, and study a foreign language and another academic subject. They will also have to complete a "reflective project that explores ethical dimensions" connected to their vocational studies.
Windermere St Anne's, a private school in the Lake District, is one of only 10 schools around the world trialling the certificate. Its pupils are delighted with the course, which has seen them spend part of their week outdoors kayaking and climbing, and other days taking lessons in critical thinking and Japanese.
Teacher unions have welcomed its potential for closing the gap between academic and vocational subjects.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "The strong academic reputation of the IB will bring esteem to the vocational field. And one of the great advantages of the IB is that the Government and its agencies have absolutely no control over it."
The National Union of Teachers agreed the certificate could boost vocational courses, but said it was an "alarming sign" of the "splintering" of 14-19 qualifications.
Some state schools are keen to introduce the certificate as soon as possible, including Havelock Academy in Grimsby, where most sixth-formers are expected to take the course from 2011, while the rest study for the academic IB diploma.
Nicholas O'Sullivan, Havelock's head, said the new certificate was more attractive than diplomas as it would ensure pupils learnt a foreign language and were globally aware, but would not require schools to send them to as many different institutions around the town.
Britain already has 141 schools registered to teach the academic IB diploma, nearly two-thirds of which are in the state sector.
The Tories have pledged even greater support for schools wanting to teach the qualification.
Michael Gove, shadow education spokesman, said he welcomed the vocational version. "The IB is a rigorous examination that is held up by international standards across the world," he said.
IB shakes off elitist image, page 6.