PLANS to revolutionise job-related courses for teenagers could be delayed because the Government's deadline.
The exam boards have warned that it is unrealistic to expect the new vocational GCSEs to be ready to teach from September 2002.
New courses in subjects like catering, construction and retail will replace the existing foundation, intermediate and part one General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs) and are aimed at giving vocational and academic courses equal status.
Under the proposals, some 14-year-olds would mix traditional and vocational options, while others would opt out of the national curriculum to concentrate on job-related courses which could involve time at college.
But the Government's high-profile mission to end the "British disease" and put craft and technical skills at the heart of secondary education could be hampered by the time-consuming demands of an ever-changing curriculum.
To begin teaching next year, school and colleges would need information on voctional GCSEs by January 2002.
Exam boards would have to do the bulk of the work before the autumn but they are already under pressure because of bumper exam entries, caused by the A-level revamp, and changes to GCSE courses from September.
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority gave advice to ministers last week on the new vocational GCSEs, following consultation, and is now awaiting a response. A spokesman said he was aware of a time problem.
A spokesman for the Department for Education and Employment said:
"Ministers only received QCA's recommendations last Thursday and will respond to the proposals in due course."
Teachers have also criticised plans to grade vocational GCSEs on an A to G scale so they can be compared with traditional GCSEs, claiming it would mean reintroducing a culture of failure for some young people.
And there are fears that replacing intermediate GNVQs could leave less able teenagers, who use them as a bridge to further study, without a viable post-16 alternative.
Fewer vocational students in colleges, FE Focus, 27