More than half the schools in the north of England will not be offering advanced extension awards, the extra test for high flying A-level students, thus resurrecting early fears that the AEAs are elitist and discriminatory.
According to the results of a questionnaire completed by schools and colleges attending this week's Universities and Schools in the North of England conference, only 24 per cent will be providing the additional qualification. The remaining 23 per cent are undecided.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said this result was no surprise.
"Most schools are not even thinking about the AEAs at the moment as they are too busy trying to implement the new A-level curriculum. But they are worried about the extra teaching that it will require, although we don't have any idea of what that will be."
Intended to stretch more able students academically, the advanced extension award was designed to keep teaching pressures to a minimum. Yet there are still fears that extra support will be necessary, placing an additional pressure on funds and resources available to schools and colleges.
"The only comparison schools have is the preparation that is required for the Oxbridge entrance exams where, typically, extra teaching is given," Mr Dunford said.
Judith Norrington, director of curriculum and quality at the Association of Colleges, said: "The test is meant for a small cohort and will not be available in all subject areas. The response to the questionnaire is logical, given that we have not yet had a clear answer from universities as to whether they will all be looking for students with AEAs or not."
The USNE conference, hosted by Newcastle University, is thought to be the first of its kind.
Anne Coxhead, assistant director of student recruitment at Newcastle University, said that it hopes to tackle the problems raised by the revised sixth-form curriculum.
"Nobody is quite sure what the advanced extension tests mean yet," Ms Coxhead said. "But it is clear that universities can't make them a mandatory entry requirement unless all schools and colleges are able to run them. They will obviously form part of an individual's profile, and will be considered as such but we do not want to disadvantage anyone," said Ms Coxhead.
Curriculum 2000 is due to be put in place in September, with the first AEA candidates becoming apparent by the end of this year. Initial trials of the test are scheduled to begin later this year.