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Last Updated: Monday, 19 January, 2004, 17:03 GMT
Pros and cons of replacing A-levels
Educationists have been arguing for and against the replacement of A-level exams in England with a version of the International Baccalaureate (IB).

In a pamphlet published by the Social Market Foundation think tank, the School Standards Minister, David Miliband, argues that the system has suffered from a vocational route that is seen as weak, and a narrow, overly academic one.

Conor Ryan, who was special adviser to the former education secretary David Blunkett, says the IB would restore the tarnished reputation of advanced level study.

But others say A-levels have served us well for 50 years and should be retained.

Alan Smithers, professor of education at the University of Liverpool, said young people wanted to follow different routes and were best served by a range of qualifications.

A-levels had been introduced in part to move away from something more like a baccalaureate.

The IB was a very high level academic qualification, not suitable for all. Unlike the French version it has no vocational equivalent.

Different levels

The idea of some sort of diploma is being considered by a government-appointed review group headed by the former chief inspector of schools in England, Mike Tomlinson. The group is due to report next month.

A member of it, Ken Spours, argues for an English Baccalaureate for all students, with both vocational and academic routes.

Mr Miliband says the government must ensure that vocational qualifications are not seen as the "poorer cousins" of academic qualifications.

Conor Ryan says the IB offers the best model, but should not try to cater for students of all abilities by embracing vocational qualifications.

Instead, modern apprenticeships should be strengthened. Both should be offered at intermediate and advanced levels.

Alison Wolf, professor of management at King's College, University of London, warns that vocational education should not be viewed as a way of engaging students turned off by school.

She also says work-based apprenticeships offer the best route - provided they are kept to a limited number of suitable occupations.

The debate directly affects England only. The new Welsh Bac involves a core of subjects such as communication and numeracy skills and European awareness, with optional subjects from courses already on offer such as A-levels and GNVQs.

The director of the Social Market Foundation, Philip Collins, says endless tinkering has resulted in an ineffective "alphabet soup" of qualifications.

"It is probably too much to hope that this is the last word on the topic," he concludes.

A-levels and IB 'hard to compare'
29 Dec 03  |  Education
English Bac gets closer
18 Jun 03  |  Education
'Compulsory A-levels' reform idea
17 Jun 03  |  Education
Baccalaureate could replace A-levels
21 Jan 03  |  Education
Vocational options for bored pupils
21 Jan 03  |  Education
Secondary students' paths diverge
21 Jan 03  |  Education

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