The government might introduce another new secondary school science qualification in England.
New science qualifications are just being introduced
The move comes just as a revised science curriculum and qualifications have begun being taught.
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is carrying out a feasibility study for a Diploma in applied science.
Some scientists feel it could place an unnecessary extra burden on an already overstretched system, and will be targeted at lower ability students.
As well as the latest revisions, ministers are also promising that all youngsters will be able to study separate GCSEs in physics, chemistry and biology if they wish to.
There is already a vocational GCSE in applied science, which is worth two GCSEs, a BTec First in applied science, and an A-level in applied science.
At the start of this school year, secondary schools began teaching a new 21st Century science curriculum for a core science GCSE, with another in "additional science" for the more academic.
From next year, the first of the new Diplomas - formerly Specialised Diplomas - are being introduced.
These combine practical and theoretical learning.
The new applied science Diploma now under consideration would be one of these.
Skills Minister Phil Hope wrote to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) to say some representatives of science-based industries had been arguing for a science diploma.
They felt it would raise the profile of science and increase the supply of suitably qualified young people.
Mr Hope said he was however concerned about the effect it might have on existing qualifications and initiatives, some of which had not yet had time to be evaluated.
QCA chief executive Ken Boston sent back a 60-page report which recommended developing a more hands-on qualification, to be taught from 2010.
An online survey it commissioned indicated some support for the idea but also a lot of uncertainty about it and some "strongly negative" views, among the 310 respondents.
The Science Council reported strong agreement that there was already sufficient choice and flexibility at GCSE level, and said it was not sure how a Diploma would fit in at a more advanced level.
A big employer, GlasxoSmithKline, doubted a Diploma would attract high achievers or would be sufficiently different from existing qualifications.
The Biosciences Federation said the GCSEs and A-level in applied science were just becoming established and their success should be properly evaluated before introducing a rival qualification.
"There are many other changes going on in schools and the Diploma would place an additional burden on an already overstretched system," said the chair of its education committee, Dr Sue Assinder.
"We are sceptical about the ability of the diploma to fulfil its aims of making a student equally suitable for employment or university entrance."
She added: "There is a danger that it will be targeted at lower ability students, leading to a widening of the divide between academic and less academic students."
Mary Curnock Cook foresees a blend of applied and academic study
The QCA has however told the government there is "a strong case" for the Diploma, and has been asked to carry out more research.
Its director of the qualifications and skills, Mary Curnock Cook, said in a speech last week that the curriculum for it might include science in engineering, science in agriculture and the environment, or in business.
"Equally it could include science in history, international science, science and philosophy, or science in war.
"So that, in addition to learning fundamental scientific concepts as we understand them in the curriculum today, young people are exposed to a broad curriculum, seen through the lens of science, blending applied and academic concepts in way that makes sense."