Chalk Talk: Surprise, surprise - it's state-school pupils who are the real stars

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The Independent Online

Oh ye of little faith! When Cambridge University announced last year it was to become one of the first in the country to insist on at least one A* grade at A-level from candidates for places, there was a chorus of disapproval. It was a typically elitist move from an elite university, which would benefit pupils in independent schools – where their teachers would be more likely to drill and push them into getting A*s.

The admission figures appear to belie that, though, by showing that the percentage of successful state school applicants actually went up last October. They show that 59.3 per cent of those admitted were from state schools – up 0.8 per cent from the previous year.

Cambridge University took the decision, now widely followed by others, because it believed it would make it easier for its admission tutors to select the brightest candidates for its more popular courses, such as law and medicine. And the brightest candidates appear to have included a greater proportion of state school pupils.

Only one black mark on the horizon: the number of both state and independent school pupils taken in has dropped slightly compared with the previous year, while the number of international students has risen.

While we're on the subject of our more elite universities, there is new research from Warwick University showing the present system of handing out offers on predicted A-level grades is disadvantaging the poorest students.

They are often late developers, having further to travel than those from leafy suburbs to achieve the best results, it argues. As a result, their predicted grades are often lower than those for independent school pupils.

The answer? Well, it's obvious, isn't it? Move to a system that any Martian coming down to Earth could understand and make offers to candidates on the basis of actual grades. It should be easier to do that with the advent of new technology.

Sadly, though, I seem to have been writing stories about how would be a much better system for ages, but nobody has the courage or determination to go for it.

A quick browse through the agenda for the forthcoming University and College Union annual conference reveals the following: under a section that says "matters to be taken in private session" is the following motion: "Union democracy". Obviously.