STUDENTS taking vocational A-levels units this summer will be marked more strictly than classmates taking the new AS-level, schools and colleges claim.
Headteachers fear that lower sixth formers, who are sitting the first year of the replacement for advanced GNVQs, will be assessed at the A-level, second-year (A2) standard after only a year of study.
By contrast, students sitting exams and completing work for the new AS-levels are marked against the standards expected after a one-year course.
The vocational A-level is a full, two-year course made up of six units that can be studied in any order. The academic, or general, A-level consists of the AS-level, where three units in a set sequence are studied. Students are examined after a year and can then drop the subject or continue it at the second, A2 level.
Chris Henstock, head of Lutterworth grammar school, said: "The problems with the new A-levels have just gone on and on. While the AS-level exams recognise that pupils are sitting the new exam a year early - in Year 12 instead of 13 - there has been a total failure to recognise this fact with vocational A-levels.
"A glaring example of this is in the business studies paper, where students taking the vocational qualification haven't got a hope of answering one particular question about a business projection - it's even above AS-level standards.
"This means that - at a stroke - th opportunities for pupils sitting the supposedly less academic exam have been utterly wiped out."
The TES revealed earlier this year that three-quarters of students failed the first vocational A-level exams sat in January in several subjects.
The poor results were put down to the fact that students were only four months into the course. But schools say that similar failure rates are likely this summer if pupils are judged against the old A-level standards.
One Birmingham teacher claimed that, under the assessment criteria, he would be forced to fail vocational portfolio work that would merit a grade C if it were AS-level.
Schools also worry that chief examiners do not have enough information to determine the grade boundaries for the new AS-level.
Graham Able, a committee chair in the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference and Girls' Schools Association, said: "AS is intermediate between GCSE and A-level. The judgment is about how far a pupil should have gone after one year. We are concerned that technicalgrade boundaries have not been designed tightly enough by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority."
A QCA spokesman said: "All vocational units are at the same advanced level standard - equivalent to that of the full A-level. While the AS units are graded at a lower standard than the vocational A-level, the A2 units will be graded at a higher standard than the vocational units. The combined effect is that the vocational A-level and full A-levels will be at the same standard."