Page last updated at 16:14 GMT, Thursday, 18 December 2008

New Pre-U worth more than A-level

Exam hall
The Pre-U exam will compete with A-levels, Diplomas and IB

A new qualification aimed at preparing students for university will rate more highly than A-levels, the university admissions service has said.

Ucas has awarded the second grade in the Cambridge Pre-U 145 "tariff" points, compared with 140 for the new A* top grade in an A-level.

It has yet to determine the points for the highest Pre-U grade.

The Pre-U has been devised by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) to offer more "stretch and challenge".

Rather like traditional A-levels it is assessed through final exams rather than any coursework.

The Pre-U achieved accreditation by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority earlier this year and began being taught in September.

It is understood that about 50 schools are offering it, including some 15 in the state sector.

IB downgraded

The Ucas tariff will come into effect for entry into higher education from 2010 onwards.

The introduction of the Pre-U coincides with the start of revised A-level specifications which are also designed to stretch brighter pupils.

The new A* grade will identify only those with marks above 90%.

This year just over a quarter of A-level entries achieved an A grade and a problem for universities increasingly has been identifying the very brightest students.

At the same time Ucas is cutting the points awarded for the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma.

As the BBC News website revealed, these have been at odds with the way the government values this alternative qualification.

Candidates who achieve the maximum 45 IB score this year will have 768 Ucas points - but from 2010 they will have only 720.

Further muddying the waters is the new advanced Diploma, a work-related qualification designed for 14 to 19 students in England. The first of those courses also began being taught this autumn.

Ucas has decided that the points for this will be a maximum of 350 for the top grade, plus whatever additional and specialist learning component a candidate has taken - such as A-levels.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "Ucas has awarded the Pre-U exam a higher tariff at the top end because the qualification requires more teaching time than A-levels.

"There is no suggestion that it is a better qualification, or more valued by universities, than the A-level. Schools are free to offer qualifications like the Pre-U, if they feel there is a demand, but in practice relatively few do. Meanwhile over 300,000 sat A-levels this year - a ringing vote of confidence."

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