Students could sit A-levels early

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A shake-up of university admissions by UCAS could see students sitting A-levels early and waiting for their results before applying for degrees.

Teenagers currently apply for courses based on their predicted grades – even though up to half of these estimates turn out to be wrong.

The reform would mean that from 2016 prospective students could only apply after they have been awarded the marks necessary to secure a place at their university of choice.

The move is designed to help state pupils, who are often predicted lower grades than they go on to achieve. But it is likely to be opposed by teaching unions as well as schools and colleges because it will reduce teaching time available in the final year.

It would also require an overhaul of the examinations timetable, with teenagers sitting their A-levels a month or six weeks earlier and getting their results in July rather than August.

Universities are unlikely to change the start of their autumn terms, giving those finishing their A-levels a five-month summer holiday.

Mary Curnock Cook, the UCAS chief executive, outlined the plans to vice-chancellors behind closed doors last week. The proposals will be considered at a meeting of the organisation’s board later this month.

Universities also fear that it could cause chaos as they will be forced to consider hundreds of thousands of applications within just a few weeks.  But supporters claim that the existing system is flawed. Applications are currently made on the basis of predicted grades in January and conditional offers are not confirmed until results are published in mid-August. As many as half of predicted grades are wrong.

The Coalition has also given outline backing to the proposals, which are part of a wider review of the admissions system.

A recent higher education White Paper said removing the ‘uncertainty of conditional offers and predicted grades’ would allow students to make ‘more focused applications based on a match between their qualifications and the entry requirements for courses’.

A Government source was quoted yesterday saying the change was of ‘real interest’ to ministers.

A spokesman for UCAS said: ‘We are coming to the end of the research process and full details will be published in a consultation document later in October.’

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘If teaching time is cut to allow for earlier examinations simply to suit university admissions, it would not be appropriate.’

School Leadership Today
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