A hugely successful vocational computer skills qualification is to be withdrawn within four years under long-delayed changes to the exams system.
The General National Vocational Qualification in information and communications technology, taken by more than 50,000 pupils this year, is being phased out alongside all other GNVQs.
The move, announced this week by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, comes more than two years after David Blunkett, the former education secretary, unveiled plans to scrap GNVQs.
That proposal provoked an outcry because Mr Blunkett suggested replacing them with vocational GCSEs, which many said were too academic and would leave thousands of students without suitable courses.
As a result, 18 months ago the Government was forced to say it would be retaining GNVQs until "suitable alternatives" had been found. This week, the QCA announced a schedule for phasing out the qualification at both foundation and intermediate level, alongside a list of proposed alternatives for students.
The least popular GNVQs, including construction, engineering and performing arts, will have their last assessment in 2005. Others will be taken for the last time in 2006, while the most popular courses such as ICT, health and social care and business will finish in 2007.
In their place, the QCA suggests that in most subjects students can take Edexcel BTec qualifications, or the comparable GCSE alternative. The full intermediate GNVQ is classed as worth four GCSEs at grade C or better for league table purposes, which many say lies behind the phenomenal success of ICT courses in particular.
The numbers taking full GNVQ intermediate courses increased by 42 per cent this year to 94,017, with entries for ICT doubling to 45,612. More than 5,000 pupils also took foundation GNVQs in ICT, worth two good passes at GCSE.
The decision to scrap them appears not, however, to have come about in an attempt to crack down on schools using GNVQs, and particular ICT courses run by Thomas Telford city technology college in Shropshire, to boost their league table positions.
The news drew a mixed response from schools and colleges. Both the Association of Colleges and the Secondary Heads Association said they had reservations about courses being withdrawn, while Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector, was conducting a review of all qualifications for 14 to 19-year-olds.
As The TES revealed earlier this year, the school made nearly pound;7 million profit, which it has passed on to other schools, over two years from the courses.
Judith Norrington, director of curriculum and quality at the Association of Colleges, said: "We need to think carefully about removing options from students at a point when a more measured change across the whole system is in the offing."
Further details from www.jcgq.org.uk