Sixth-formers to be encouraged to broaden their studies, reports Sarah Cassidy.
MINISTERS hope to introduce an American-style graduation certificate for sixth-formers to encourage them to extend studies to include extra-curricular activities.
They are considering extending plans to create a qualification for the brightest teenagers who have completed a combination of A-levels and activities outside the classroom.
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is about to embark on its largest-ever consultation of young people to determine how they, their teachers and employers would like the new qualifications to be developed.
The proposed certificate would bring sixth-form study closer to the International Baccalaureate - a demanding programme which was recently praised by Mr Blunkett for its rigour and breadth.
The IB requires students to study six subjects, research a 4,000-word report, and take part in theatre productions, sports and community service.
Under the new plans everyone will aim for a graduation certificate by the age of 19.
There would be three pathways to graduation: general education, based on full-time study at school or college; high-quality vocational education in college or the workplace; and employment with the right to have time off for study.
Students would also choose extra-curricular pursuits, such as voluntary service, work experience, sport and the arts.
An umbrella qualification based on A-level was proposed by Sir Ron Dearing in 1996. But it failed to be included in post-16 reforms which come into force in September, despite support from employers, higher education and education authorities.
David Blunkett's original proposals for a graduation certificate aimed to rescue a "lost generation" of disaffected 16 to 18-year-olds.
Now he has asked his curriculum advisers to investigate whether an advanced-level certificate would also motivate the brightest sixth-formers to extend their studies.
Mr Blunkett wants two levels - a basic level 2 graduation certificate, where young people must achieve five good GCSEs or their equivalent, and a level 3 certificate based on A-levels, or their equivalent, for higher achievers.
Both would also require a wider range of extra-curricular achievements.
Geoff Lucas, director of special projects at the QCA, said: "Graduation will require achievement beyond what is currently recognised in performance tables. It will demand more, not less, of young people.
"The certificate originated out of work done by the Social Exclusion Unit on disaffected young people but has now moved very much into mainstream policy. It is certain to connect with the debate about an over-arching certificate at post-16."
At present only 73 per cent of 19-year-olds would qualify for the basic certificate.
The Government has set a target of 85 per cent to achieve five good GCSEs or their equivalent by 2002.