Schools in England are turning to Scottish examinations to stretch able pupils and to fill in gaps left by GCSE studies, headteachers have revealed.
The Standard grade and Higher papers are being sat by more than 1,200 English pupils every year, even though schools cannot submit the results for use in Government league tables.
Heads claim the switch to Scottish examinations has come about through word of mouth. Teachers claim the courses are more rigorous and they are particularly favoured by modern languages departments because of their emphasis on oral work and linguistics.
There are 13 English schools - in the maintained, grant-maintained and independent sectors - registered as permanent exam centres in England with the number growing slightly every year.
A spokesman for the Scottish Examination Board said: "The interest in the past 10 years has been rising. We think it all started with ad hoc arrangements with schools wanting to cater for individual candidates. Teachers saw the content of the papers and decided to give it a go."
At the London Oratory School, which from September will be attended by the son of the Labour leader Tony Blair, up to a quarter of all examination entries are taken with the SEB with pupils sitting Standard grade and Highers in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Latin and religious studies.
Headteacher John McIntosh said he felt "aggrieved" that successes in those subjects were not recorded in league tables. Under existing criteria the school achieves a 54 per cent rate of pupils gaining five or more A-C grades. If the Scottish papers were included that figure would rise to 67 per cent.
Mr McIntosh said the school favoured the Scottish exams in languages because there was more oral work involved. "I have had a running battle with the Department for Education and the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority over the inclusion of these exams in the league tables ever since they were first published. I have never received a satisfactory answer as to why they should be excluded."
At Teign GM School in Devon, a Scottish Standard grade exam in chemistry was introduced for GCSE pupils because English examining groups refused to allow the school to offer an individual science exam alongside the double science award, headteacher Alan Pritchard said. "Some of our more able pupils want to do a separate course in chemistry to give them greater preparation for A-level."
Scottish Highers in French and physics are offered at Uppingham School, Leicestershire, to stretch able pupils. Headteacher Stephen Winkley said: "Our proportion of starred A grades at GCSE is higher than in most schools and we believe this is because our pupils have that extra input by studying for Highers at the same time as for GCSE.
"We found there was not enough differential in the GCSE for those pupils who were capable of achieving high grades. Some of our brightest pupils see Highers as a challenge and a bit of a treat.
At Katharine Lady Berkeley School in Gloucestershire, which hopes to became a language college under the Government specialist schools scheme, headteacher John Law plans to introduce Scottish exams in languages because he feels they are more rigorous and stress linguistics.
Pupils from Year 9 upwards at the school are already doing 40-hour courses in Latin offered by the board to help with their general language learning. These are certificated when they reach Year 10.
He said: "Our biggest consumers, if you like, are sixth formers. They want more classics and grammar work and the Scottish papers can provide this. "