Massive shake-up of A-level system to end university lottery

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The Independent Online

Head teachers from state and public schools have combined to set off the biggest change in 50 years in the system for awarding university places to school leavers.

Head teachers from state and public schools have combined to set off the biggest change in 50 years in the system for awarding university places to school leavers.

They have called for an end to the "lucky dip" system that sees thousands of youngsters awarded provisional university places before they know their A-level results - with those who fail to get predicted grades thrown into a last-minute scramble for places.

Their report, which has the backing of Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, would mean that students receive the news of their A-level grades earlier, and apply for university places when they know how well they have done.

The proposal comes as the education world braces itself for a rise in the A-level pass rate this Thursday, for the 22nd year in succession. More youngsters are also set to get A-grade passes - bringing the number of scripts awarded top-grade passes to nearly 200,000.

Mr Clarke has set up a working party to study proposed changes to the university admissions system. Its conclusion will be heavily influenced by the joint report of the Secondary Heads Association, which represents state schools, the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, representing the main public schools for boys, and the Girls' Schools Association.

The heads say the present system is unfair on bright youngsters from deprived areas, who are likely to be put off applying for the top universities because they underestimate their chances of achieving good grades.

In the past it was assumed that papers could not be marked quickly enough, and the results sent to students soon enough, to allow time for them to find a university place after A-levels. The Government has no power to order schools to alter their year or exam boards to publish their results earlier.

But more online marking should reduce the period students have to wait for results. Sources at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority - the Government's exams watchdog - believe even this year's results could have been announced earlier. By applying to universities online, students will be able to cut through admissions red tape.

The introduction of a six-term year by education authorities over the next two years is also likely to help - with the possibility of exams being brought forward to the end of the fifth term.

Exam boards are ready to help the move towards "post-qualification application" - as the new system is called - if they are convinced the schools, students and universities want it.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "All heads have seen so many cases where applying post A-levels would have benefited youngsters. Far too much importance is attached to predicted grades, which are notoriously unreliable.

"Youngsters from the groups we are trying to help by widening participation are far more likely to be excluded from applying to the more well-known universities because of a lack of confidence.

"There is a large majority in favour of the change. I would say it would only be a small minority of heads who would be against it."