Children from poorer backgrounds could be helped into university by taking a new IQ-style test designed to give them the same chance of gaining admission as independent school pupils.
Under a radical proposal, sixth-formers from less well-off areas and other pupils would be asked to take two, one-hour multiple-choice tests in English and maths, whose results would be assessed by universities when viewing applications.
Unlike conventional A-levels, the tests would allow little scope for preparation and revision, instead testing children's raw intellectual ability. This would help level the playing field between entrants from different types of schools.
Similar tests are already used in American universities, where more strenuous efforts are made to attract students from lower social classes. The plan will be put forward her next week by a government task force looking at how to widen access to universities.
The scarcity of undergraduates from working-class backgrounds is a politically sensitive issue which has prompted the Government to appoint an "access regulator" to open up the applications system. The issue came to the fore when the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, criticised Magdalen College, Oxford, for rejecting Laura Spence, a comprehensive school pupil, who achieved five A grades at A-level. This summer the row was reignited by the rejection of three students, each with at least five A grades, by Trinity College, Cambridge.
Professor Steven Schwartz, vice-chancellor of Brunel University, will report his plan to widen access on Tuesday. Questions for the students taking "scholastic aptitude tests" are more practical than academic.
Universities or schools would administer the new tests, alongside A-levels. There would be little disruption to timetables because both tests could be sat in an afternoon.
Leading educationalists are expected to welcome the proposals. Sir Peter Lampl, the millionaire philanthropist who has set up a trust to encourage disadvantaged youngsters to go to leading universities and is also a member of the task force, backed the idea for aptitude tests at a private seminar earlier this month.Reuse content