University places for drop-outs

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The Independent Online
SIXTH-FORMERS who drop out of their A-level courses could still gain university entrance points, under plans being considered by admissions officials.

They could be awarded points for each part of the new modular A-level courses, under an option being floated as part of the biggest change in the way exam scores are recorded for 30 years.

But yesterday the Office for Standards in Education , headed by Chris Woodhead, the outspoken chief inspector of schools, argued against change, claiming sixth-formers might be encouraged to "pick and mix" courses.

Ofsted fears there would be a temptation to try and accumulate points without any real in-depth study.

The reform, proposed by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas), is designed to reward students who take extra courses to "top up" standard A-level courses. It will also ensure that those who drop out have something to show for their work.

A consultation paper to be sent to schools and colleges this week argues the change would help achieve the Government's aims of promoting lifelong learning and encouraging broad-based study in sixth forms.

But it makes it clear that any changes to points scores would not alter actual exam grades and would have no effect on standards.

The points system is familiar to hundreds of thousands of university applicants, who will receive their A-level results this week. Under the current system an A is given 10 points, five times more than the two points awarded for an E grade.

The scoring was designed 30 years ago as a rule of thumb for admissions officers but is now used as the basis of school and college league tables.

Under the new proposals an A could be worth 120 points, with an E grade worth either a third or a half as much. Points would be awarded to students who gain the full qualification, but they could also gain up to 20 points for each module they pass, even if they do not finish the course.

A revised point score system would dovetail with the Government's wholesale reform of A-levels, due to be introduced next year. Under the new system students will take up to five subjects in the lower sixth before topping up three subjects to full A-levels in the upper sixth.

Each qualification will be divided into individual sections or modules, with students having to pass exams or coursework assessments in three modules for an AS-level and six for the full A-level.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, welcomed the proposals, saying they would encourage "greater breadth of study".

But a spokeswoman for Ofsted said the inspectorate was in favour of the status quo. She said the change might "encourage a pick-and-mix approach. But it does make more sense for more mature students."