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Tutors turn bacs on A-levels

The prospect of A-levels and GCSEs being replaced by a baccalaureate-style diploma seemed to get closer this week following a survey of university admissions tutors.

Overall, universities rated the international baccalaureate (IB), which has similarities to the possible English bac, higher than traditional A-levels, the survey of 78 tutors found.

However, the results should be treated with caution, as the research was carried out by the organisation which runs the IB.

A total of 1,643 students took the IB in Britain this year. Students have to complete courses in six separate subjects, forcing those with strengths in science to take an arts course, and vice-versa.

Asked to rate the IB against traditional, pre-2000 A-levels and against the current ASA2 exams according to different criteria, the tutors judged the IB stronger, on average, in five of the six categories.

They thought the qualification had greater breadth than either version of the A-level, and produced more motivated students, with better critical thinking, communication and self-management skills.

Pre-2000 A-levels outscored the IB on depth, though the IB ranked higher in this category than the current AS-A2 qualification.

A taskforce being led by Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector of schools, is investigating the possibility of an English bac and is due to report to ministers next summer.

The tutors surveyed were enthusiastic about the requirement in the IB for all students to do an extended essay and to study the theory of knowledge, which could feature in the taskforce's recommendations.

However, they were more lukewarm about another element of the IB which is being taken seriously by Mr Tomlinson - the recognition of extra-curricular work including sport, the arts and community service.

Support from university admissions tutors will be essential if the move is to succeed. Only certain aspects of the IB are likely, though, to be taken up in any qualification recommended by Mr Tomlinson's group. There is concern that the IB is aimed only at high-ability students. The research did not consider students' previous ability levels.

Its findings coincided with research done by Ken Spours and Anne Hodgson at London university's Institute of Education, presented at HMC, which suggests that most private schools are now open to the idea of wholesale reform at sixth-form level.

Around 50 independent schools have now adopted the IB amid concerns that A-levels no longer identify the most able candidates.

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