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A taste of university at A-level

A pioneering project to turn 16-year-olds into undergraduates is to be extended. After sixth-formers at a North East high school became the first in Europe to begin university study at the same time as taking A-levels, pupils at a second school are now being offered the same opportunity.

Newport Free Grammar School, a grant-maintained comprehensive in Essex, will give up to 15 teen-agers embarking on advanced general national vocational qualifications in maths the chance to take the Open University's Open Mathematics course. The course is designed to give students a taste of university study methods, easing their progress into higher education.

The project is based on a pilot study launched last year at Monks-eaton Community High School, which attracted the attention of Sir Ron Dearing, the Government's chief curriculum adviser. In his review of 16-19 qualifications, Sir Ron recommended that bright sixth-formers have the chance to take modules of university courses.

The Monkseaton project is being extended to a second year of students, the OU announced this week.

David Kirkham, head of English at Newport Free Grammar and a former OU tutor, proposed introducing the scheme after reading about Monkseaton's experience in The TES. He said: "We are convinced this will do nothing but good for the motivation of the students and the status of this course."

Sixth-formers opting to take the OU programme, involving about eight hours' extra study a week, will work with the support of anOU tutor.

Though the sixth-form undergraduate schemes have attracted national attention, the OU is not pressing to widen the project to the detriment of its prime function - offering adults a second chance of higher level study.

However, Mr Kirkham points out that, as the bills for university study rise, increasing numbers of students may opt to stay living at home and pursue OU courses, welcoming the prospect of preparing for or even completing some modules while still at school.

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