New qualifications designed to blur the divide between academic and vocational education could be in use as early as 2001.
Proposals for reforming A-levels and their vocational equivalents have been circulated to a select group of senior education experts before they are published next month.
Ministers are seeking views on a range of options which could lead to a new advanced level national certificate intended for 18-year-olds and adults returning to education and training.
They want to know whether the new umbrella qualification could be in use as early as 2001. Reformed A-levels and AS-levels are pencilled in for launch in 1999.
But there is no sign of a British baccalaureate in the early proposals. The certificate would be based on whole qualifications - like A-levels or general national vocational qualifications - rather than on units or modules. Young people would not be encouraged to pick and mix wildly varying modules to make up a course.
There are suggestions for a new breed of general A-levels, perhaps made up of modules from different subjects within a broad discipline. Economics, psychology and sociology units, for example, could be combined to produce a social science A-level.
The document also includes proposals to bring vocational qualifications nearer to the A-level gold standard. Ministers are proposing a new GNVQ pitched at the level of a single A-level, as well as proposing an A-level style grading system for GNVQs. Renaming GNVQs applied or vocational A-levels is also a possibility.
There are plans for closer links between GNVQs and work-based National Vocational Qualifications, plus suggestions to include key skills like numeracy and information technology in A-levels.
Sir Ron Dearing's proposal for a national certificate to reward broad study and a diploma for achievement at the highest level appears to have been dropped in favour of a single broad-based qualification, possibly pitched at several levels.
Ministers are understood to favour an approach building on the idea of A-level as a benchmark, amid concerns that a dilution of standards could provoke universities into offering more expensive four-year degrees.
* An unprecedented coalition of 11 teaching unions and professional associations has signed up to a 15-point blueprint for reform of all qualifications for the over-14s.
A document due to be signed today calls for the development of a single certificate - something which could eventually lead to a replacement for A-levels and vocational certificates - and an end to the divide between academic and work-related courses.
The "statement of key principles" also calls for further development of modular courses - a move which could start to break down the idea of traditional pass or fail qualifications like A-levels or GCSEs in favour of a system which allows people to build up credits towards their qualification by taking a broad range of studies.
All the major teaching unions have signed up to the document, which has been drawn up by researchers at the London University Institute of Education, to coincide with the publication of the Government's new consultation on reform of qualifications for the over-16s.
FE Focus, page 32