Diploma to plug the 'soft skills' gap
The specialised portfolios are expected to feature in diplomas, to be offered within three years, as ministers react to employers' concerns that school leavers lack many of the "soft skills" they seek.
The diplomas are an attempt to improve the vocational options available to pupils from the age of 14 and build on the recommendations of the 2004 Tomlinson report on secondary exams.
Teenagers will be offered diplomas at three levels: 1, which corresponds to GCSE grades D-G; 2, at GCSE A*-C; and 3, at A-level equivalent.
They are expected to be taught for 90 minutes a day for level 1; two hours a day for level 2; and three hours a day for level 3.
Pupils will take compulsory and optional courses in both academic and work-orientated subjects at each level and have to pass new functional skills tests in English, maths and ICT.
And, for the first time in a major exam, assessment in these soft, or generic, skills, will be introduced. The move follows concerns raised by Sir Mike Tomlinson that the exams system offers little recognition of pupils' ability to work in teams, to make speeches and to work independently.
Under the plans for electronic portfolios, pupils would build up evidence of this type of work, which would be assessed by their teachers. Some of it might come from work experience placements, sports, arts or music projects.
The portfolios would be sent to exam boards for moderation.
School leavers are also likely to be able to present them to employers and universities as evidence of their achievements.
The portfolio proposals come amid concern among exam boards and Sector Skills Councils, the employers' groups that are developing the new qualifications, that the diploma is being rushed.
Courses in five subject areas, ranging from creative and media to healthcare are being launched in schools and colleges from 2008. By 2010, every pupil will be able to choose from a range of 14 different diplomas, say ministers.
There is still some debate about whether the diplomas will be "built" from existing exams such as national vocational qualifications, or designed from scratch.