14-year-old pupils may be allowed to choose job-related courses
FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLDS may soon be able to ditch compulsory GCSEs in order to specialise in catering, construction or the performing arts.
Curriculum advisers have asked Education Secretary David Blunkett to approve vocational science courses to replace GCSEs for 14-year-olds from September.
The idea is to allow 14-year-olds who are 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 scheme will be extended if ministers give their approval to the science proposals. It wants pupils to be able to take general national vocational qualifications in catering, construction, computing, retail, media and performing arts.
The plan aims to satisfy Mr Blunkett's desire for increased flexibility at key stage 4. Schools would ask the Department for Education and Employment for permission to drop two programmes of study, selecting from science, design and technology and language courses.
Pupils will drop previously compulsory GCSEs to create teaching time for foundation or intermediate GNVQs - the equivalent of four GCSEs.
Currently, disaffected pupils can drop two subjects to spend up to a day a week in the workplace. The regulations were recently extended to include the most able teenagers who want to focus on particular subjects and also to weaker pupils.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:
"Introducing courses equivalent to four GCSEs for 14-year-olds suggests an early narrowing of the curriclum - something which the national curriculum was designed to prevent."
A QCA spokesman said: "GNVQ science is a more hands-on approach, involving more lab work and learning through experiments and investigations. It is going to be quite intensive and is certainly not for the less able."
New "vocational GCSEs" or GNVQ part ones were introduced in September in seven work-related subjects but do not currently include science. Curriculum advisers are also to investigate whether schools would welcome a science GNVQ part one which would be equivalent to two GCSEs.
A further shake-up involves all GCSE syllabuses being rewritten for 2001 to bring them in line with the new national curriculum.
Officials say the changes will be kept to a minimum but exam boards expect the number of courses to be cut.
The QCA is currently preparing new criteria which are due to be sent to exam boards next month. Boards must rewrite their courses to fit the new requirements and submit them for accreditation by June.
George Turnbull, spokesman for one of the big exam boards, the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, said: "This is an extremely tight and challenging timetable. It comes just after the boards have finished developing the new A-level syllabuses and just as the summer examinations begin."
Paul Sokoloff, head of qualifications at Edexcel, which offers 132 GCSE syllabuses in 24 subjects, said: "We would wish to see a sensible balance between diversity and choice and standardisation in syllabus provision."
The new syllabuses are currently scheduled to be sent to schools by November 2000 and will be examined from 2003 onwards.