Wiltshire headteachers have given a guarded welcome to the new exams being proposed by the Government.

Students could begin studying for English, maths and science baccalaureates in 2015, taking them in 2017.

It could be 2018 before they sit baccalaureates in most languages, history and geography. The replacements for GCSEs focus on end-of-year exams, rather than modules and are thought to be similar to the exam-based O-levels introduced in 1951.

CSEs were brought in during the 1960s for less academic pupils while GCSEs – introduced in the 1980s – were a move to combine CSE and O-level exams.

Malcolm Irons, headmaster of Devizes School, said he welcomed the restriction to one exam board for each subject, which is part of the proposals, but he has serious reservations about making the future of each pupil depend on one three-hour examination at the end of four years’ work.

He said: “I am not in favour of having no assessments until the very end.

“In many walks of life the ability to work consistently well over a long period is a skill we need and to test the pupils in this old-fashioned way and cram it into one three-hour exam is a backward step. We will, of course, comply and work diligently to make sure our pupils are ready for the new system when it comes in.”

And Abbeyfield head David Nicholson, who is also the Wiltshire county secretary for the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Modules will go, once and for all. We currently work with a two-tiered system, with foundation and higher classes, but these will go too. We don’t yet know all the details and what will be replacing these sorts of things. “We also don’t know what will become of more vocational subjects, like DT and engineering.”

Mr Nicholson said he was pleased that there will only be one exam board testing each subject, unlike the situation now, where different exam boards with different boundary levels can ‘bid’ for a subject. “I also believe there is mileage in the idea that, if a student needs to, they can take the exams when they were 17 or 18, rather than retaking in college or sixth form,” he said.

“our current Year 7 pupils will be the first to go through this. “There is a lot that needs to be sorted before that can happen.”

Wiltshire councillor Lionel Grundy, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “Improving life chances for young people by continuing to raise standards is a priority for us. “We understand the aim of this national change is for qualifications to match the best in the world.

“Taking only an examination at the end of a course rather than as units assessed along the way will be a challenge for some students.

“However, we have confidence our schools will prepare their students well.”