Do We Need the Cambridge Pre-U?

The Guardian on Saturday April 12 carried an article by Polly Curtis, their Education Editor, entitled “Elite rival to A-levels wins backing from exams body”.

It refers to the Cambridge Pre-U diploma drawn up by the University of Cambridge International Examinations, which has won official backing from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. It will be funded by the Government in State schools but only six of the thirty schools intending to teach the Pre-U from September are state schools. Since private schools educate only 7% of the school-age population, this is leading to fears that a two-tier examination system is being created.

It is described as being a return to a more traditional style of A-level course and this will certainly make it attractive to University admission tutors. Despite Government assurances to the contrary, A-levels are definately getting easier, one has only to compare modern text-books with those used twenty or more years ago to see that. There is a reason for this though, beyond the needs of successive Education Ministers to look good.

Far more students stay in full-time education than used to be the case. Consequently the A-level has to cover a far greater ability range than used to be the case so naturally it is easier to achieve a top grade. If the Universities do not wish to lower the standards of their degree courses this means it is that much harder for them to select those students who would benefit from studying their courses.

This might make it seem that the answer to the titular question is “yes” but there is a risk that taking an examination geared to university entry may not be much use to students if they decide against going to university. There already exist means of identifying the more able without devising new exams i.e.┬áthe Advanced Extension Award offered by many independant and state schools.

Education is the means by which people can improve their lot in life. Despite Government propoganda about choice, if you come from a run-down council estate your chances of getting into an elite state school are slim to non-existant. At the moment capable students at schools with a low pass-rate can still be one of their school’s success stories an attain a qualification that is recognised across the board. If elite schools offer a different qualification from the rest that will no longer be the case and those born in the mire will be doomed to stay there.

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4 Responses to “Do We Need the Cambridge Pre-U?”

  1. brianthesecond Says:

    Far more people may indeed stay in education that used to be the case. That is no reason at all why A levels should have to cover a larger ability range, or be any easier than they were. In particular, it is no reason why the top grade should be any easier.

    After all, if a few years ago only the top of the class took A-levels, and now many more people do, one would expect the proportion of students achieving the top grade to fall, not rise.

  2. pyjamasinbananas Says:

    Although the numbers taking A Levels has massively increased over the last 40 years it would be politically unacceptable to allow the top grades to proportionately fall – I recall only a couple of years ago newspapers leading with the scandal of falling pass rates (and thus falling standards) in some qualification or other – utterly oblivious to their own headlines about falling standards due to increasing pass rates the year before.

  3. kelvinthroop Says:

    brianthesecond: I disagree. There needs to be some evidence of understanding achieved. Saying 80% (or whatever) have failed is not particularly useful. My point is that the purpose of the A-level has changed. The Government of course pretends it has not and pretends that they are not easier than 20 or more years ago. I just think that the AEA will serve the purpose of selecting the most able for degree courses without the need to devise a new exam

    pyjamasinbananas: Agreed re journalists. Some of them seem to have trouble remembering what they wrote last week never mind last year. The intention of many is to knock teachers, schools and the DoE come what may.

  4. pyjamasinbananas Says:

    Is there not still enough evidence of the best students provided by the individual module marks (over and above the grade classification) without having an additional qualification that adds another level of pre-selection disadvantaging ordinary students (I’m looking at you Cambridge with your stupid STEP papers) in the same way that a separate qualification does?

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