Page last updated at 12:17 GMT, Monday, 14 April 2008 13:17 UK

A-level alternative gets approval

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

Another alternative to A-levels, aimed at preparing students for university study, has been approved by the exams watchdog.

The Cambridge "Pre-U", intended to offer more "stretch and challenge", has been accredited by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

The two-year courses will compete with A-levels and the forthcoming Diploma.

The exam board says the Pre-U will promote the "independent study skills that are required by universities".

The green light from the exams watchdog means that the Pre-U will be able to take its place in the qualifications structure - with one Pre-U officially worth one A-level.

'Traditional'

In an increasingly crowded marketplace in courses for 16 year olds, the Pre-U will be seen as serving the more academically-ambitious schools, aiming to send pupils to leading universities.

Developed by the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), the Pre-U has been likened to a more "traditional A-level".

It does not have a modular structure and emphasises the virtues of "digging deeper" into a subject - with exams at the end of two years of study.

It will also be seen as a way of helping oversubscribed universities to distinguish between the growing number of pupils who achieve A grades at A-level.

Last year, about one in four of the A-levels awarded were A grades - with independent schools achieving almost twice that level.

There have already been calls from independent schools for more rigorous A-levels.

The head of Harrow School has warned that unless the A-level is "strengthened" the school could switch to the Pre-U exam.

Head teachers have already warned about the risk of confusion and logistical complications when A-levels and Diplomas are both expected to be taught by schools.


SEE ALSO
Harrow head demands harder exams
01 Nov 06 |  Education
Alternative A-level exam produced
23 Jun 06 |  Education
Heads' tough warning on Diploma
07 Mar 08 |  Education

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