A-levels have suffered a fresh blow weeks before thousands of students pick up their results after it emerged dozens of schools are planning to abandon the exam next year.
A total of 50 schools – including one in the West Midlands – will ditch A-levels in September in favour of the new Cambridge Pre-U exam, which offers tougher essay-style questions and relies less on coursework.
This year Birmingham’s fee-paying King Edward’s School – one of the most successful centres in the country for A-level performance – revealed it is planning to drop the exam and teach the International Baccalaureate instead.
Until recently it has been mainly leading independent schools that have voiced concern about A-levels. However the 50 schools set to adopt the Cambridge Pre-U in the autumn also contains 15 state schools, including King Edward VI Grammar in Stratford-upon-Avon.
It will cease to offer A-level English and is also considering switching pupils to the Pre-U in German and French.
The school’s headteacher, Tim Moore-Bridger, said: “I have for a long time been dissatisfied with the present structure of A-levels.
“I am sure what we’re giving pupils is not good preparation for university success – in particular the fact that they can go up without having written an essay to speak of.”
Mr Moore-Bridger said A-levels could be dropped in other subjects at the historic 500-pupil boys’ school, with maths possibly the next to go.
“If it is successful, we could be all Pre-U in five to ten years,” he added.
A-levels have come under fire in recent years with increasing numbers of pupils gaining top grades. Ministers claim this is because teaching has improved, pupils are working harder and the marking regime is no longer quota based, meaning everyone who reaches the standard gets the mark rather than a proportion of the overall year group.
The Government has attempted to address the growing tide of criticism against A-levels by introducing a new A* grade from September to identify the brightest students.
Schools such as Birmingham’s King Edward’s School in Edgbaston, however, have criticised the modular element of A-levels introduced with AS levels in 2000, which allows pupils to retake failed components.
Speaking to The Birmingham Post in May, the school’s head John Claughton said: “If we were happy with A-levels we wouldn’t be looking at these alternatives.
“As the years have gone on with Curriculum 2000 and AS levels, people are frustrated. We are frustrated with modular exams. The danger of modules and AS levels is it knocks the stuffing and the life out of teaching and learning.”
Mr Claughton said the IB provided more choice and was less prescriptive than A-levels. King Edward’s School would become one of the most high-profile schools in the country to completely ditch A-levels in favour of the IB when it goes ahead with its plans.
The King Edward VI Foundation, which includes five grammars and the fee-paying King Edward VI High School for Girls, said other heads within the network are also reviewing their options, but none had yet come to a decision.
Coloma Convent Girls’ School in Croydon, south London, will become the first comprehensive to switch from A-level to Pre-U in September.
The Pre-U, devised by University of Cambridge International Examinations, includes three-hour essay-style questions. A-level questions tend to give pupils 15 minutes to develop an answer.
It has won accreditation from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Government’s exams watchdog, which means schools can receive Government funding to offer it.
The University and College Admissions Service is expected to rank it alongside A-levels.
A-level results will be out on Thursday, August 14.