By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Online education staff
The caps and gowns of the high school graduation ceremony in the United States could be coming to England.
US high school graduations are a useful "rite of passage", says minister
School Standards Minister, David Miliband, says English teenagers could benefit from school graduation ceremonies.
Addressing head teachers and college leaders, Mr Miliband said it could be a reward for teenagers completing school.
"We should recognise their achievements," said Mr Miliband.
Speaking at a conference addressing the shake-up of the secondary school qualification system, Mr Miliband called for "celebrations" for youngsters who have successfully finished their years in secondary school.
This could encourage more students to stay in school beyond the age of 16 - and could tackle a problem which at present means that England has one of the highest drop-out rates in the industrialised world.
There are proposals for a "diploma" system - and the minister suggested that English schools could also adopt the celebrations associated with gaining a high-school diploma in the United States.
And he said that he wanted to start a debate over whether there should be graduation ceremonies in this country.
"There are lessons to be learnt from the United States. When a cohort of learners come to graduate from local education at 18, I believe we should recognise their achievements.
"I am encouraged that various schools and local authorities are promoting the idea of graduation at 18 as a rite of passage for young people. It is appropriate and right," said Mr Miliband.
The high school diploma itself has faced criticism in the United States in recent weeks.
David Miliband promises no official guidelines on school proms
A major report claimed that it had become devalued and that the overall qualification gave little indication of whether student had adequate skills in areas such as literacy and numeracy.
Another report claimed that too many ethnic minority students were failing to graduate from high school - with only half of black and Hispanic students gaining diplomas, compared to three-quarters of white students.
The conference addressed by Mr Miliband was considering the proposals to shake-up the secondary-school system, presented by Mike Tomlinson last month.
The school standards minister has not formally approved the plan, but showed no sign of disagreeing with its contents.
But there are many major questions about how the current system will be changed to a diploma model.
The future of the A-level, often held up as a qualification that is understood by employers and universities, remains in doubt.
In an eight-page speech about the secondary school qualification system, the minister did not once use the phrase "A-level", but he said afterwards that nothing should be read into this.
Mike Tomlinson said that even if the A-level's "tag" was changed, what was important was that the underlying content it represented was maintained or improved.
Speaking at the same conference, the head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, Ken Boston, suggested that the problem of exam overload at A and AS level-could be tackled quite swiftly.
He suggested that not all units of A and AS-level subjects needed a separate exam - and that it would be possible to combine or remove exam papers so that the overall number of exams could be cut by a third.
Questions put to Mr Tomlinson by head teachers at the conference expressed their fears about the complexity of a four-tiered diploma, which could include academic and vocational subjects, which pupils could study in a way that was not limited by their age group.
But the schools minister gave every indication that he would be pursuing the radical reform put forward by Mr Tomlinson's working group - emphasised by his rather telling answer to a throwaway question.
With the conference title behind him - "Moving towards an English baccalaureate?" - Mr Miliband was challenged whether baccalaureate should end with a letter 'e'. The real question to ask, said the minister, was "Why is there a question mark?"