Calls for earlier exam results as students miss university places

Up to 1,200 young people may miss out on provisional university places they have been offered this year even though they have the right grades.

The teenagers, many of whom have three straight A-grade passes, got their results following re-marks – but, by the time the revised results came through, all the places on their courses had been taken. This means it will be next year before they can take up their places.

The dilemma emerges because of the squeeze on university places this autumn following the 10 per cent rise in applications.

Now Geoff Lucas, secretary of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference – which represents the top boarding schools – is demanding that exam results should be brought forward to avoid a repeat of the problem.

He said at least 20 of his schools had contacted him about the issue. Many state schools are similarly affected. "It shouldn't be beyond the wisdom of the exam boards to bring the date forward now we have electronic marking," he said. He is asking Ofqual, the newly-established independent exams watchdog, to intervene and sort out the crisis.

Writing in yesterday's Times Educational Supplement, he told of two pupils – a boy from a comprehensive school and a girl from an independent school – who had been affected by this problem. The girl was told by an admissions tutor, after it was confirmed she had the required grades, that if she had got her grade the first time round, she would have been all right.

"The issue of lost university places because of poor marking by exam boards and the impatience and insensitivity of admissions tutors can only be described as a national scandal," Mr Lucas added.

"It is a failure that potentially affects all aspiring university entrants, irrespective of gender, race, socio-economic background or schooling. It is a truly inclusive national failure.

"If Ofqual can't bring its influence to bear on this important issue then it deserves to be at the forefront of the Conservatives' promised cull of quangos when they take up office in 2010."

There have been various attempts to persuade exam boards to bring forward the exam results' timetable. Dr Ken Boston, when he was head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, wanted A-levels and GCSEs brought forward to late May so pupils could receive their results by the end of the summer term.

This would have the added advantage of allowing teenagers to apply to university after receiving their results, rather than being offered places based on predicted grades.

This was opposed in Whitehall, sources said, because it could affect standards, with students having less time to prepare for their exams.

Exam regulators are confident the date for results could be brought forward now new technology means they are electronically delivered to schools.