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Are more schools going over to Pre-U?

(32 Posts)
Hamishbear Sun 30-Sep-12 07:21:54

A school I am looking at has recently abolished A'levels and gone over to Pre-U.

The school says it is making this move because of the general dissatisfaction with the A and AS level system, the reported grade inflation and that courses have had the content reduced and are not challenging enough.

It apparently has an independent research and global perspectives element.

The school says that they believe the IB is too prescriptive and restrictive? They say if you have an gift in a certain area you might want to specialise and the IB does not allow you to do that. For example maths must be studied with the IB if you are wishing to specialise and study a language. Also budding scientists can't just study Physics, Chemistry and Biology alone with the IB .

So with the Pre-U, as I understand it, you study three main subjects then have the global perspective element and independent research report?

With Pre-U you can also get the diploma if you study French and Spanish A level but Pre-U English it seems - as long as you do the independent research report and global perspectives part.

I think, with Pre-U, you take an exam at the end of 2 years but he global perspective part and independent research part are examined at the end of the lower sixth. The global perspective part sounds interesting, lots of different themes to explore and the idea being you focus on a key challenge that you will perhaps face in adult life: China as an emerging superpower, medical ethics etc. Has to connect to a theme either: ethics, economics, environment, technology and politics. You take an exam, submit a piece of work and do a presentation.

With the independent research project you do a report of between 4,500 and 5,000 words at the end of the lower sixth.

Apparently UK Universities are very keen on the Pre-U - including Russell Group & Oxbridge. American Universities also view it positively.

The school says that the Pre-U is designed to be accessible to the same range of ability as A levels. A D2 (Distinction 2) is equivalent to A* at A level (with Pre-U there is a grade above A* - D1). A at A level is equivalent to D3.

Cambridge apparently have said they ask for 1 x D2 and 2 x D3 and Oxford either 1xD2 and 2x D3 or 3 x D3.

Cambridge seem very keen on Pre-U and I have to say I like the idea of the global perspectives element very much.

So is the Pre-U more popular than the IB? What are the pitfalls?


happygardening Mon 08-Oct-12 10:22:27

slipshodsibyl you are absolutely right I cant substantiate this but I have heard quite a lot of anecdotal evidence from others who've sat it and mnistooaddictive comment:
"I only have experience of the maths syllabus, but I was amazed at just how difficult the questions are at pre U. There is far more content on the syllabus as well but the questions are phrased in a completely different way to a level" also rather backs this up.
This is not a pissing match; "my child sits harder exams than yours" but I was raising an important point and something that could be of concern to both parents and children who may considering the Pre U.

ZNevilleSmith Mon 08-Oct-12 09:53:19

Hi, I work for the exams board that offer Cambridge Pre-U (Cambridge International Examinations) and thought it might be helpful to share our latest Cambridge Pre-U facts and figures:

We have 152 schools in the UK registered to teach Cambridge Pre-U.
Of these, 72 are state schools and 80 are independent.

To respond to mummytime - we feel that the Cambridge Pre-U can be just as flexible as A Levels. Many of our Cambridge Pre-U schools offer Cambridge Pre-U subjects alongside A Levels, allowing greater choice for their students.

Cambridge Pre-U also offers Global Perspectives and Research (GPR) in which students are encouraged to develop as independent, critical thinkers and then, in the second year, to use these skills to produce a research report in a topic of their choice. Many schools have adopted GPR as a curriculum enrichment programme and universities tell us that GPR is great preparation for undergraduate study.

If there are any further questions about Cambridge Pre-U that you'd like us to answer, feel free to post on this thread or email us at

slipshodsibyl Mon 08-Oct-12 08:48:14

Those who have sat the Pre U and done well are significantly more ahead than their peers when arriving at university

I'm sorry but it is most unlikely that you are able to substantiate this claim.

happygardening Mon 08-Oct-12 07:35:25

There is a serious issue that needs to be thought about. Those who have sat the Pre U and done well are significantly more ahead than their peers when arriving at university. Many have also come from top independent schools so will also have gone beyond the curriculum. My concern and I also know that this has happened is that they get to university and discover that in the first year they are studying areas already covered and not even in the depth that they covered it at school and drop out after a couple of terms. This of course may not apply if you studiying a new subject e.g. medicine but may do if for example your studying maths.

mnistooaddictive Mon 08-Oct-12 03:50:55

I only have experience of the maths syllabus, but I was amazed at just how difficult the questions are at pre U. There is far more content on the syllabus as well but the questions are phrased in a completely different way to alevel. They are the type if questions that it is so easy not to be able to even start or go down the wrong route. Personally I wouldn't want to teach it as I think even the most able students could very easily slip up.

mummytime Sun 07-Oct-12 19:00:05

Well in my area I know only one school doing it State or private. 3 international and 7+ other private, and one state college doing IB. Just about everyone else does A'levels, some with other qualifications.
Admittedly this could all change, I even suspect some ofthe State schools will be considering IGCSE rather than Gove's new exam.

happygardening Sun 07-Oct-12 17:28:23

mummytime I know of at least three state grammar schools offering and I would quite fairly describe myself as pretty clueless about state ed. and this is an extract from the Cambridge Pre U website;
"Cambridge Pre-U, which aims to prepare students better for the rigour of university study, is growing in popularity in state schools across the UK, according to the latest figures from University of Cambridge International Examinations.
Take-up of the qualification, which follows a two-year linear programme with examinations at the end, is nearing 50:50 in terms of the state versus private school split, with 64 state schools and 74 independent schools entering their pupils Cambridge Pre-U subjects."

TalkinPeace2 Sun 07-Oct-12 17:19:51

bearing in mind the views of Michael "I ignore all evidence" Gove
the whole curriculum could change mahoosively before year 9's get anywhere near any of the post 16 exams

mummytime Sun 07-Oct-12 08:37:48

Pre U is mainly offered by private schools, I don't know any state schools offering it.

A'levels offer more flexibility, especially when combined with other components of sixth form life such as: citizenship/service, sport, extended essays, OU courses, Critical thinking, work experience etc.

jubileemum Sat 06-Oct-12 22:53:48

I thought you may like to know that DD took 2 A Levels and 2 Pre Us and got the equivalent of AAAB. She was rejected from Bristol and Exeter, but we thought nothing of it as she was applying for a very competitive course. However, she decided to approach Exeter one last time through clearing and was told that even though they had spaces and her grades were good enough she would not be offered a place as her Pre U qualifications could not be counted as they were not on the list of equivalent qualifications to A levels. Exeter said there was nothing they could do, but the mistake had been recognised and that Pre U qualifications would be added to the list for 2013 so it should not be a problem then. Just be aware though that DD was denied a place at the university she really wanted to go to because she took Pre Us rather than A levels. Needless to say we are not very happy parents!

MrsWobble Tue 02-Oct-12 09:16:24

my 6th formers are both doing pre U. the main difference from A level seems to be the absence of a public exam at the end of the first year. i think this may make uni application harder in that the predicted grades are pure prediction, there are no AS levels to support the school's view. but my dd has decided to take a gap year and apply after results so this hasn't been a problem for her. i like the fact that teaching continues throughout the year and hasn't had to be stopped to focus on AS revision - i feel it ought to mean that they get more teaching overall - don't know if this is true though.

mine had done iGCSE exams in year 11 and there was a noticeable step up in difficulty to pre U - but they also changed schools so that may also be a factor.

and final point, my eldest did a university undergraduate module alongside her pre U syllabus in her lower 6th year. She achieved a 2.1 in the uni exam, but only an M3 in the school exam. Clearly the material was different and she had a bad day on the school exam but I do think Pre U is probably more difficult than A level and designed for A grade candidates.

happygardening Sun 30-Sep-12 17:55:28

It seems to me that there is too much choice or maybe I'm wrong maybe it's good that are children have all these choices. As I've already said I only know of one school that only offers the Pre U are there others out there or are most schools thinking that choice is better?

Hamishbear Sun 30-Sep-12 16:55:54

Thanks, will take a look.

Copthallresident Sun 30-Sep-12 16:54:33

Hamish I think it is Daily Mailesque to make sweeping generalisations about the superiority of 70s qualifications, which certainly don't apply in terms of my subject area. Times have changed, the nature of academic study has changed and developed, and with it the needs of universities and employers. There are a lot of problems with the current system as this years debacle has shown. GCSEs certainly aren't stretching the brightest and it felt as if my daughters were being brainwashed with checklists for getting A*s rather than educated (and they took IGCSES). Most universities now look unfavourably at resit results, and quite a few courses now don't accept them. However change needs to be in response to the properly researched needs of educational professionals and employers, not a rose tinted nostalgia for the past which seems to be entirely free of any sort of evidence based analysis!! Or even parent's wishlists for an exam they would have done well in wink Ben Goldacre subjected what little research there is to some scientific rigour

Copthallresident Sun 30-Sep-12 16:33:01

Ah cross posted, they were listened to!

Hamishbear Sun 30-Sep-12 16:32:39

Anotherteacher sounds a bit like the old S level where you could go off piste with a subject & really enjoy the exam?

Copthallresident Sun 30-Sep-12 16:31:58

Hi creamteas I was wrong to say that pre U was in the equivalence lists, I assumed it must be because of something that was said to me about a candidate. It appears from the RGs answer to Question 6 on the Consultation document on 2013/14 that it isn't but that RG are highlighting it as an issue.

Hamishbear Sun 30-Sep-12 16:31:11

Thank you.

creamteas Sun 30-Sep-12 16:20:28

OK, I have just checked through the HEFCE Circulars and Pre-U is on the list to be added this year

If anyone is interested in what qualifications/grades count as outside the quota student number controls (margin) you can find it here

Hamishbear Sun 30-Sep-12 16:14:32

Creamteas, no really just my lack of knowledge - your post got me thinking. Copthall, many thanks. Is it really purely 'Daily Mailesque' to believe A levels are easier now? Certainly it's what all the schools I've looked at have told me & re-sits of part of the exam certainly not an option back then. Schools also told me GCSE too easy so IGCSE introduced for more breadth/depth etc.

creamteas Sun 30-Sep-12 16:05:21

Sorry if I didn't explain the quota very well.

You can find more details here (although it has not been updated for entry this year)

Pre U is not listed so I don't know where it stands.

anotherteacher Sun 30-Sep-12 16:05:09

Though one or two schools have moved entirely to Pre-U, I believe in general, schools leave it to the Heads of Department to choose the syllabus they prefer for their subject - so many schools offer a mixture of Pre-U and A Levels. IB is separate of course. It isn't simply whether it might be harder than A level, but it might allow a broader range of responses and be less tied to a restrictive mark scheme which handicaps those with real flair, often.

One school I know well is trialling Pre-U in a subject where marking is often considered poor quality at A level and pupils get strange results. I don't know enough to say whether they are harder, but the D1 grade, in effect, offers a chance to get an A**.

Copthallresident Sun 30-Sep-12 15:53:48

The quotas cream teas referrs to are the governments initiative to create a free market for students with AAB /ABB (it was AAB this year but the proposal is to make it ABB next year) so that universities can expand courses beyond their quotas by recruiting students with those grades. Pre U is certainly included in the qualifications that have equivalence but I am not sure what grades exactly. This years admissions round was very skewed by a mixture of lower numbers of applicants, fishing for AAB students and deflation in A level grades and on the face of it our DCs will face a less competitive process in future than my DD1 did a couple of years ago (I sit on both sides of the fence as both parent and academic). However the government are not telling universities what the end point is in their strategy and don't seem to have thought through all the implications of their current policies so it is very difficult to predict what the admissions process will be like in future.

In terms of Pre U/IB/ A levels, I think it is very much horses for courses. I have two specialists and A levels suited better than IB. IB gives you a chance to keep your studies broader and is better regarded globally where the British prediliction for early specialisation is often not viewed favourably. It involves a greater quantity of work which may interfere with a candidates ability to read around their specialist subject but it also gives greater scope in terms of opportunities to increase your point score, certainly greater than having all your eggs in the basket of one set of terminal exams. It is purely anecdotal but I am aware of more candidates being tripped up by pre U, which would make sense if it is a higher fence and just one set of exams and would explain why some schools have decided to challenge the brightest with PreU but keep A levels for the rest. I also wonder if some schools might see offering only PreU as a marketing USP, given all the controversy over GCSEs and A levels, and general loss of parental confidence, even if it might not be perfect for all candidates.

Universities will judge candidates in terms of the equivalence of their qualifications, so no qualification is intrinsically more valued than others that are judged equivalent. It would not be fair to advantage those whose schools offer a particular qualification.

I would also be careful about falling for the Daily Mail thinking that the old A levels were more challenging than they are now. Certainly in my subject my 70s A level was nowhere near as challenging as it is now (and my BCC offer would now be A*AA.) and would for instance have been less use to universities wanting evidence of the ability to develop an evidenced argument .

So the decision is really about what qualification will meet your child's needs and give the best potential for success.

Hamishbear Sun 30-Sep-12 14:04:34

Thanks. I wonder how similar the Pre-U exams are to the old fashioned A'level exams in terms of content, depth, difficulty?

The idea that you can resit parts of the A'level just seems wrong to me - but I am basing on my own experience. I know, being a hard worker, I would have likely had a much better chance at a decent red brick with this system in place. I just missed out on the 3 Bs - one grade out - I needed back in the mid 80s.

happygardening Sun 30-Sep-12 13:05:37

"Are A levels 'easier' because you are continually assessed rather than having to take an exam at the end of 2 years on which everything depends?"
I'm no expert and my DC's haven’t reached this phase in their education but from what friends tell me you can resit parts of the A level and AS level until you get closer to the grade you want although not all universities will accept this (Oxbridge and IC I understand don’t). So you are relying on getting it right when you sit the exam. Secondly my DN said the questions were much harder, requiring a greater depth of knowledge and analysis for Pre U.
"In the example you give about Kings College - that's the equivalent of A,A, and C (?) at A level?"
Just checked Kings website for biochemistry they interestingly require the A A B at A level to read biochemistry.

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