More top schools ditch A-levels in favour of the baccalaureate

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Some of the most prestigious schools in the country are turning to the International Baccalaureate, complaining that the A-level system no longer identifies outstanding candidates and that it bogs down students with unnecessary exams.

Forty-nine schools now offer the two-year qualification, which involves a range of compulsory subjects, according to the International Baccalaureate Organisation, the Geneva-based body that runs the exam.

From this September, pupils at fee-paying Bedford School will be able to take the IB instead of traditional A-levels, for example. The top performing North London Collegiate School for girls hopes to offer the qualification in 2004, while Eton College recently announced it too is considering running the baccalaureate alongside A-levels.

Last week's publication of A-level results saw a fresh round of complaints that the exam has become "too easy".

It was also reported that a pupil at Colchester County High School for girls, Candice Clarke, had failed to win a place to read medicine at Trinity College, Cambridge, despite having five As at A-level. Top universities have long complained that the exam no longer discriminates between top-performing students.

Thousands of students now achieve three or four A grades at A-level. In the baccalaureat, by contrast, only two per cent, achieve the top mark.

Well-known public schools such as Malvern, Haileybury and King's College School Wimbledon already teach the course. This year the giant Whitchurch comprehensive school in Cardiff became one of a handful of state schools to offer the qualification.

Mrs Katy Ricks, headteacher of Sevenoaks, a private school which is planning to phase out the A-level by 2006, said the IB has the advantage of being independent from government interference.

Eighteen-year-old Tom Brougham at Sevenoaks has just been awarded the maximum mark of 45 in his IB and is now heading for Edinburgh to read medicine. Tom needed 37 points for his place at Edinburgh, the equivalent of three As at A-level. Fellow student Sarah Featherstone, 18, found keeping up with six separate subjects hard work, but still received 35 points - the equivalent of two As and a B - for a place to read psychology at York University.

Thomas Alexander, also at Sevenoaks, scored 39 points and is going to study geography at Nottingham University. He says he was never in any doubt that the IB was preferable to an A-level course, even choosing to take up Spanish as a new subject.