Thousands of university rejects to resit exams

January deadline means youngsters face short, one term ‘crammer’ courses
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A major rise in the number of teenagers resitting their A-level exams this autumn is being forecast as thousands face being rejected by universities in the wake of the record number of applications to higher education due to the recession.

Many of the 60,000 disappointed candidates, who are likely to include scores with top-grade passes, are likely to take a gap year with a view to re-applying next year. As a result, those who have failed to get top grades will feel under increasing pressure to boost their grades by resitting their exams.

Fiona Pocock, who chairs the Council of Independent Education, which represents so-called “crammers” geared to getting youngsters into university, said: “We anticipate higher demand for short resit courses in all the CIFE colleges.”

The youngsters are likely to opt for short one-term resit courses because January will be the last time this year's students will be able to resit the exam under the present syllabus. A-levels change next year to a system of more open-ended questions designed to stretch pupils' thinking skills.

A growing number of universities will opt out of the clearing system, through which students without an offer can get a university place, because they believe more youngsters will achieve their predicted grades this year. Oxford, Cambridge and University College London traditionally do not use the system. This year they have been joined by Bristol. In addition, Warwick and Imperial College London say they will have few places.

Anthony McClaren, chief executive of the university admissions service UCAS, has already said he expects “intense” pressure on clearing this year. Last year, 44,000 students found places through clearing but “it may be half that” this year, he said.

Applications for places have soared by 10.3 per cent overall to just over 600,000 this year. The rise in home-based applications is even higher, at 12.5 per cent. But there will only be 13,000 extra places, including 10,000 earmarked for science and maths-based subjects announced by Lord Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Business and Industry, last month.

The rise in resits also coincides with a growing row over whether youngsters should be allowed to keep on retaking their A-levels. In an interview with The Independent last month, Lord Suther

land, who chairs the Chartered Institute of Education Assessors, the body which represents exam markers, called for a ban on resits except in exceptional circumstances.

He said it was necessary to give A-levels more credibility in the wake of the year-on-year rises in the number obtaining A grades. The figure is expected to rise again this year, with predictions that about 26.5 per cent of all scripts will be awarded an A grade compared with 25.9 per cent in 2008.

But Jerry Jarvis, the managing director of the Edexcel exam board, argued that resits should continue to be allowed, pointing out that the growing number of people who managed to conquer the peak of Everest did not mean that the mountain had somehow become easier to climb.

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was necessary to keep a resit option open. “I think there are circumstances in which people need to do a resit,” he added. “They may have been unwell or below their par. I think it is reasonable to give them that door.”

He said he questioned the need for resits this year. “Students resit because they don't achieve their potential,” he said. “I don't see why there should be any more in that category this year.”