Richard Garner: Get up early to beat the great clearing crush

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The Independent Online

The good news is this could be the last year of the seemingly never-ending rise in A-level pass rates.

The bad news is that the current A-level system is going out in style, presenting university admissions officers with their largest ever headache as they try to sift out the brightest talent for the most over-subscribed courses.

A rise in applications from candidates – largely due to the recession but also featuring in applications to Oxford and Cambridge – coupled with an anticipated rise in the percentage of A-grade passes, has brought about this dilemma.

It has also coincided with signs that attempts to widen participation in higher education among disadvantaged youngsters could have had their most fruitful year.

It would be an awful irony if this group bore the brunt of the inevitable rejections of candidates by universities this year. Up to 60,000 students are likely to face rejection and record numbers with three straight A-grade passes are likely to be turned down by Oxford and Cambridge.

It will be essential for youngsters still seeking a university place through clearing on Thursday morning to get cracking early in their search for somewhere to study, as competition will be its fiercest for many years.

After that, let us hope that the changes to A-levels next year, with the introduction of the A* and questions allowing candidates to show more creative thinking, will combine to help sort out the university selection crisis next year.

But one proviso needs to be made. Teachers, particularly in the most disadvantaged schools, must aim high for their brightest pupils if universities are to require an A*-grade pass for a place next year.