Private heads angry over 'unfair' university entry

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Independent school headteachers have clashed with the Government over plans to reform university admissions, which they fear amount to "social engineering" that will deprive their pupils of places at leading universities.

They accused the Higher Education minister, Bill Rammell, of putting "dogma before fairness" in the drive to recruit more state school pupils to leading universities.

Mr Rammell defended his reforms, arguing: "If social engineering means putting right existing unfairness within the system, then I plead guilty.

"But it is certainly not about interfering with which students universities do and do not admit.

"You have a problem with the existing system in that only 45 per cent of predicted grades are accurate, and the students for whom they are most inaccurate are students from the poorest backgrounds. That is the unfairness that [we are] trying to rectify."

The Government has set out two options for reforming university admissions, which are currently based on a system of predicted grades in which students apply to university before they get their A-level results.

The first would be for all university applications to take place after A-level results are published, a system known as "post-qualification applications".

The second option would see universities make some offers before A-levels and hold back a proportion of their places until after results for candidates who did better than predicted.

Independent school leaders said yesterday that they would be happy if all university places were allocated after the publication of A-level results, but are opposed to the second option, to hold back a proportion of places, as they believe it may disadvantage their students.

David Vanstone, chairman of the Independent Schools Association, accused ministers of caring more about "social engineering than academic excellence".