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A-level reforms will reduce access, say vice-chancellors


Britain's top universities have joined critics attacking Michael Gove's A-level reforms. In a survey, 22 leading universities said the Education Secretary's decision to scrap AS-levels as a qualification to count towards a final A-level grade is a serious misjudgement that will damage state-school pupils' efforts to be admitted to higher education.

The Labour Party survey of vice-chancellors, pro-vice-chancellors and admissions directors showed that almost 67 per cent opposed Mr Gove's reforms, with only 18 per cent backing the changes that are due to be introduced in 2015. The new figures challenge the Department for Education's claim that the reforms will raise standards and that leading universities are backing Mr Gove.

The survey will also do little to improve Mr Gove's reputation as an elitist, with almost half of those questioned saying they believed the new regime would have a detrimental impact on fair access to university. Only 18 per cent believed the changes would have no impact.

Stephen Twigg, Labour's education spokesman, said the changes would threaten social mobility by reducing state-school pupils' chances of getting to university. He said: "David Cameron and Michael Gove are pulling up the ladder of opportunity behind them. They should listen to what our best universities are saying and change their plans."

Professor Nick Foskett, the vice-chancellor of Keele University, said the qualifications, taken in Year 12, had been important in widening access. He said: "AS-levels ensure increased breadth post-16 and help students defer choices until they have a better grasp of subjects beyond GCSE."

In the survey, to which 22 of the top 50 universities responded, a majority also agreed that AS-levels were a better indicator of future success than GCSE results, the prediction of grades or the use of admissions tests.

With elite Russell Group universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and the London School of Economics all taking part, the results cannot be dismissed by the DfE as unrepresentative.

A spokesman for Cambridge University – currently rated second in the world in the authoritative US News and World global rankings – said: "The proposed reforms are in our view detrimental to widening participation and fair admissions. The reforms will hamper transitions, deprive students of choice and flexibility and force them to commit to subjects which they may find entirely unsuitable as they mature academically and make choices about their future."

Earlier this month the rapid changes to the A-level regime were also criticised by the heads of Britain's independent schools.