Universities set new standards for sixth-formers

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The Independent Online

Radical reforms of university entrance requirementsfamiliar to generations of sixth-formers are being proposed at some of Britain's most respected universities.

Radical reforms of university entrance requirementsfamiliar to generations of sixth-formers are being proposed at some of Britain's most respected universities.

The universities plan to replace the traditional prerequisites of three A-level results with a range of "pick-and-mix" qualifications, according to guidelines being sent to students. The new system, a response to reformed A-level syllabuses, is due to be introduced in September. Sixth formers will study four or five AS-levels, each worth half an A-level, in the lower sixth, before "topping up" two or three subjects to a full A-level a year later.

Proposed offers vary considerably between universities, with some asking for three A-levels plus an extra AS, while others are planning to accept students who have taken a range of combinations.

At Manchester University, offers in most subjects will be based on just two full A-levels, backed up with an extra two half-size AS-level exams. In a minority of degrees, only one full A-level will be required alongside a series of AS exams.

Applicants to Southampton will have a choice of offering three A-levels and one AS or two A-levels plus three AS exams. Birmingham is looking for the equivalent of three Alevels taken in the upper sixth, although academics will accept two A-levels and two AS-levels if they are all taken in the same year.

Dr John Ash, director of admissions at Birmingham, said the new curriculum would "open the doors to widening participation" among students from poor backgrounds.

New "vocational A-levels", brought in to replace the old GNVQ subjects, will also be introduced, alongside the "key skills" qualifications, which include subjects such as communications and computing.

About 20 universities have so far published guidelines to schools to help new sixth formers choose their A-level options as the reforms of A-levels are introduced.

University admissions officers argue the new entrance requirements will maintain standards while ensuring no students are prevented from applying because courses are not available.

They are to debate the implications of the new system today at a conference organised by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said yesterday: "I think certainly the standard three A-levels are on the way out, but it is crucial that all students are able to do a broader curriculum.

"The letters which universities have sent to schools so far show that students are going to be given credit for the grades in their AS-level subjects and that is very encouraging and it will help schools to put on a broader range of courses for their sixth formers."

Mr Dunford called for all universities to issue clear guidelines to 16-year-oldsat present finalising their exam choices for next year.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, called for further reform to introduce new IQ-style tests for university entrance to encourage more students from deprived backgrounds to enter higher education.

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