16 January 2008
Dozens of leading state and independent schools are poised to adopt a new qualification worth more than four A-levels, it emerged on Tuesday.
The Government's exams watchdog is expected "within weeks" to approve Pre-U courses, backed by Cambridge University.
The Pre-U will comprise three subjects and an extended research project on a global theme.
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Testing time: Some 1,000 sixth-formers are trialling the new qualification
The exam board responsible, Cambridge International Examinations, said it was expected to attract more university entry points than four A-levels.
This was because all exams are taken at the end of two years instead of in stages throughout the course as they are at A-level. Pre-U teachers will spend less time preparing pupils for tests and more covering the subject in depth. Each subject studied at Pre-U involves 400 teaching hours, against 360 for A-levels. This is largely because A- levels have to "keep stopping for assessment", CIE said.
The Pre-U's top grade will flag up a higher standard of achievement than even an A* at A-level, a new grade being added in 2010.
Some 1,000 sixth-formers in 30 state and independent schools are trialling the Pre-U.
A CIE spokesman said "dozens" more schools had inquired about offering it when it becomes available for teaching in September. Eton College has indicated it is "certainly looking at" the exam.
It will heap pressure on the Government's new breed of diploma qualifications which, says Schools Secretary Ed Balls, could one day replace GCSEs and A-levels as the "qualification of choice" for teenagers.
The diplomas will be taught for the first time to 40,000 teenagers from September.