Sir Ron Dearing's proposed National Diploma, the baccalaureate-style qualification for high-flying sixth-formers, is set to be broadened at the request of mathematicians and scientists.
Under Sir Ron's initial proposals, made during his review of 16 to 19 education, National Diploma students would have to study four subjects at A-level or AS-level covering the fields of: the humanities; modern languages; civics (eg law); and maths and science.
But this attracted immediate criticism from headteachers in both the state and independent sectors. They pointed out that this level of prescription would prevent science-minded sixth-formers from studying a spread of maths and science subjects - essential for a later study of university science - and predicted that the Diploma would be ignored as a consequence.
In answer to this, Sir Ron, chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, is believed to have recommended that the National Diploma will be awarded to students studying four out of five subject areas, instead of the more restrictive four out of four.
Mathematics and science will be treated separately under proposals now awaiting ministerial approval. This will, in theory, give potential scientists more scope to specialise.
The likely change meets with the approval of the private-sector Head Masters' Conference. "We were ideally looking for a limit of three out of five subject areas, but four out of five is certainly better," said Vivian Anthony, secretary of the HMC. "It was totally unreasonable to have maths and science in the same subject block."
John Sutton, general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, said: "We are stepping in the right direction. Whether the National Diploma will work is a different matter. The question of whether it is worth anything depends to a large extent on the view taken by higher education and by employers."