GIFTED TEENAGERS are to be encouraged to take their A-levels early, as part of plans to tailor the senior school timetable to pupils' needs.
Students will be able to opt out of foreign language and design and technology GCSEs in order to start A-level courses, other GCSEs or vocational qualifications in their strongest subjects from September 2000.
They will not be allowed to specialise at the expense of science lessons, however, after Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett vetoed proposals to allow more teenagers to opt out of science at 14.
Bright pupils already take A-levels early but at present cannot drop so-called compulsory subjects to do so. Curriculum advisers believe the new-look modular A-levels to be introduced next year will also be used by schools to stretch bright 14 to 16-year-olds.
From September 2000, students will be able to begin five subjects in the sixth form and take new AS - Advanced Subsidiary - exams at the end of the first year.
A spokeswoman for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Government's curriculum quango developing the new regulations, said: "The new AS lends itself quite helpfully to inclusion at key stage 4. If a school identifies that its greatest need is to provide for high attainers, then it might look at how it could build the new AS-levels into key stage 4 provision."
But the new flexibility is not simply for the most able. Any pupil will be allowed to exchange foreign language and design and technology lessons for extra tuition in a particular curriculum area - such as languages, arts, humanities or sport - if their school can demonstrate the new provision would be more appropriate and build on the pupil's individual strengths.
Struggling pupils will also be allowed to drop these subjects in order to concentrate on the basics. Schools must nevertheless ensure all students pursue a broad and balanced curriculum.
Mr Blunkett has said he wants the national curriculum review for 2000 to create a more flexible timetable for 14 to 16-year-olds without actually removing subjects from the compulsory curriculum. Instead he wants to allow more pupils to be "disapplied" from parts of the national curriculum.
The proposals are an extension of regulations introduced last year which have so far allowed more than 7,500 teenagers at nearly 500 schools to spend up to a day a week in the workplace or on vocational training. These rules came into force in September 1998 and even more schools are thought to have taken advantage of them this year.
Under current regulations, pupils are allowed to drop two subjects out of science, modern languages and design and technology. They will continue to be able to drop science to give them the flexibility to spend up to a day a week out of school.
The QCA is to consult schools on the criteria which will determine exactly how schools will be allowed to tailor their curriculum to pupils' needs from September 2000.
The consultation is due to run from November 1 to January 21, 2000, and is open to everyone. To respond contact the QCA on 0171 509 5555.