GCSE, AS and A level courses in engineering are set to be ditched in the latest stage of a major shake-up of exams.
The proposals were announced today in a new consultation document published by England's exams regulator Ofqual, which also has courses in subjects such as electronics, manufacturing and information and communication technology in its sights.
GCSEs, AS and A-levels in traditional subjects such as English, maths, humanities, science and foreign languages are already being revised, with the new courses due to be brought in over the next two years, and Ofqual's new paper covers all subjects that are not already in the process of being revamped.
Many of those expected to be axed are in subjects which are similar to, or overlap other courses, according to Ofqual's consultation paper, and they also plan to reform some other courses, such as electronics and information and communication technology, to create new, tougher qualifications.
"There are different views about the appropriateness of the range and variety of GCSE, AS and A-level subjects, and some of the more unusual subjects concern us from a standards perspective," the consultation says later.
"In England we have a large range of subjects and a variety of qualifications with different titles and some overlap (for example, biology and human biology). This can be confusing, and it makes standards difficult to maintain."
Among the GCSE courses due to be scrapped are engineering awarded to 1,816 in 2012, manufacturing, awarded to 105, and electronics, awarded to 1,046, as all three are believed to overlap with the new design and technology (DT) curriculum. AS and A levels in engineering will be discontinued for the same reason.
The consultation also suggest reforming the information and communication technology GCSE, awarded to 42,310 in 2012, as well as courses in information and communication technology, awarded to 16,970 at AS and 9,492 at A level, applied information and communication technology, awarded to 13,552 at AS and 8,725 at A level, and electronics, awarded to 2,131 at AS and 1,165 at A level.
The GCSE subjects which are not due to be revised under the latest plans will not be taught after 2017 while the majority of unreformed AS and A-levels will go from 2016, the document says.
Those qualifications that are revamped will be first taught from 2017.
Paul Davies, head of policy at the IET said: “Studying the STEM subjects is vitally important as a stepping stone to progressing into not just the engineering and technology sector but a wide range of careers. However, if the engineering GCSE and A level are to be dropped, how will young people know about engineering and then go on and study the subject?
“The Government must recognise that qualifications such as the GCSE and A level in engineering will be at the heart of achieving improvements to the economy and supporting a pipeline of future apprentices, technicians and engineers.”
A foreword to the consultation - which closes in eight weeks - says: "As things change, we want qualifications in different subjects to be similar in their level of demand and assessment structure at each level.
"Our proposals for this will inevitably lead to a small drop in the number of subjects available: subjects that attract few students may disappear, with exam boards unlikely to invest in reforming them to the standard we require."
Ofqual chief regulator Glenys Stacey said: "We think it important that subject content is reviewed and updated as qualifications change, and we set out proposals for how we think that is best done for the remaining subjects. At the same time, there are subjects which we think would not meet the principles we have put forward, and which we propose should be discontinued.
"We also identify subjects where a decision is yet to be taken and it is for exam boards to choose whether they wish to redevelop them. We will expect exam boards to consider factors such as demand and merit before making a case to us that any subject they choose to develop can meet the standards we set."