Pre-U, A-level equivalent favoured by private schools, to be scrapped

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A post-16 qualification that was popular with England’s private schools is to be scrapped, the exam board that administers it has said.

Cambridge Assessment International Education has announced it will administer its Pre-U qualification, an alternative to A-levels, for the last time in 2023, with a last re-sit available in June 2024.

The organisation said the qualification, now only used by a “small number” of schools was “unsustainable” to run. This is despite the number of having risen steadily in recent years, from 5,038 in 2014-15 to 7,850 in 2018-19.

Cambridge International claims the Pre-U remains a “high quality, stable qualification”, but over the years the rate of pupils achieving the top grades has prompted concerns over grade inflation.

Data obtained by the Morning Star newspaper under the freedom information act shows that in some subjects, pupils were three times more likely to achieve the top grade in a Pre-U than an A or A* at A-level.

For example, 74.9 per cent of pupils achieved a distinction in the Pre-U qualification in 2017. Just 24.8 per cent got an A or A* at A-level.

In physics, 65.8 per cent of pupils achieved top-grade in Pre-Us, while just 29.6 per cent met the benchmarch at A-level.

The subject was also at the centre of an exam cheating scandal involving some of England’s top private schools.

Mo Tanweer, a deputy head at Eton College, resigned in 2017 over allegations that he circulated questions from an upcoming economics exam to his colleagues.

He had also served as a “principal examiner” in economics with Cambridge International.

Soon afterwards, Winchester College suspended its head of history of art, Laurence Wolff, over allegations that he gave students information on exam questions in two papers.

The scandal prompted a review into the rules governing teachers’ involvement in setting exam questions. The review led to checks one teacher-examiners’ lesson plans, as well as other interventions.

Christine Özden, Cambridge International’s chief executive, said the qualification “has had an influence on the UK government’s reform of A-Level as a linear qualification”, adding that “many features of Cambridge Pre-U which were distinctive and ground-breaking at the time are now part of the educational mainstream”.

“UK schools in both the state and independent sector have adopted Cambridge Pre-U as rigorous preparation for university. However, despite being held in high regard, it has only been used by a small number of schools, and this makes it unsustainable for us to run,” she said.

“Our consultations outside the UK have shown that schools worldwide do not see Cambridge Pre-U as distinct enough from our International A Level to adopt it. From this, we have concluded that Cambridge Pre-U entries will not grow any further.”

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