A COLLEGE has become the first in East Lancashire to offer an internationally-recgnised qualification that acts as an alternative to A-levels.

The International Baccalaureate will be on offer at St Mary’s College, Shear Brow, in Blackburn, from September – and already 40 teenagers have signed up.

College chiefs expect more than 100 students to enrol over the next two years.

Principal Kevin McMahon welcomed the decision by the International Baccalaureate Organisation to approve St Mary’s.

He said: “It is a marvellous boost for this region.

“We are delighted to receive this recognition.

“Through the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, students at St Mary’s College will join an international community of learners, and we are confident that it will open even more doors into higher education.”

The college was awarded the accolade after a two-day intensive visit from the International Baccalaureate Organisation.

The two-year diploma programme is able to identify and challenge the brightest and most exceptional pupils through its rigorous testing.

Universities are looking more and more at the qualification to help them choose potential students.

Students choose six subjects, take part in community service and extra-curricular activities, as well as submitting an extended research project.

Inspectors from the International Baccalaureate Organisation praised the college for its “vision” and said it was the “best prepared school they had seen in many years”.

They also highlighted the “professional expertise, enthusiasm and teamwork of the teaching staff”.

The qualification has already been adopted by more than 100 schools and colleges in the UK.

St Mary’s College will still be offering A-level courses to its students.

The college is holding an information evening for any Year 10 and Year 11 students interested in learning more about the International Baccalaureate.

It takes place at the college on Thursday, June 18.