There have been a lot of changes recently in the UK with respect to education, mostly related to secondary leaving credentials.
The Cambridge Pre-U is a new A Level alternative that received accreditation by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in early 2008. The two-year Pre-U is geared towards university entrance and currently offers 26 principal subjects. The Pre-U Diploma consists of three principal subjects as well as an independent research project and a global perspectives portfolio, but students can also choose to take stand-alone qualifications, either in addition to the Diploma or in conjunction with the IB. Its grading follows a three band, six grade scale: Distinction 1, 2, and 3 for the top tier; Merit 1, 2, 3 for the next tier; and Pass 1, 2, and 3 for the last grouping. D3 is currently estimated to be equivalent to A on A Levels, while D2 correlates to the new A Level grade of A*. The Pre-U was created because of a perceived grade inflation on the A Level exams students are passing 1 in 4 A Levels with a grade of A, and the number of students with 3 A grades has doubled in the last decade.
Speaking of A Levels, there has been much discussion about possible deteriorating quality of A Levels, so the government has taken several steps to address this issue. Since many teachers and higher educational institutions believe that the A Level exams have been dumbed down, Ofqual plans to publish the questions and answers from GCSEs and A Levels so that the public can gauge the quality and relevance of the questions. In addition, the decision has been made to make the A Level exams more difficult by requiring longer essay questions and more in-depth study of the modules.
As another way to address the concerns about lenient grading, teaching for the exam rather than for knowledge, overuse of A grades, inability of universities to differentiate between the masses of A students, and other worries, a new grade A* will be offered in 2010, though the oversight council recommends that universities wait a few years before requiring it to allow for wider participation and data collection and comparison. Some universities have already shunned the grade because they feel it will lead to an imbalance of students from independent schools, while other universities, such as Cambridge, have embraced the A* as a way of choosing the best candidates since they have been denying admissions to record numbers of straight-A students. In addition, the advent of the A* grade will replace the Advanced Extension Awards, introduced in 2002 to test students at the highest level and make it easier for universities to identify exceptional students, which will be phased out from 2009 to 2012.
To make things even more exciting, the government has also created yet another alternative to the A Level, the controversial Diploma. Like the others, it’s a two-year program, but it differs greatly in that it incorporates work training and academic studies. It features three levels: the Foundation Diploma (equivalent to 5 GCSEs at grades D to G), the Higher Diploma (7 GCEs at grades A* to C), and the Advanced Diploma (3.5 A Levels), and more offerings are on the way. There are currently ten subjects that will be offered by September 2009 with another 7 slated for 2011. In theory, students who earn a diploma can either continue school at the next Diploma level or take A Levels, go on to university, take an apprenticeship, or start a job with training in the field. However, there is a great deal of concern that universities are not going to accept the diploma and that students taking it with the intent of furthering their education will be wasting time and money. Other concerns have been raised that the Diplomas are too complicated yet fail to prepare students for universities, even if the universities were to accept them. In addition, only a quarter of the expected number of students began Diploma programs when they premiered in September 2008. The government believes that all diplomas will be available in all local areas by 2013, but an independent report in January 2009 determined that teachers and business lacked faith in the Diplomas for both university entrance and work experience.
And yet another change in British education: by 2015, students will have to remain in school, college, or on-the-job training, until they turn 18; currently, they are able to leave at 16.