Universities may be biased to independent sector

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More students from private schools may be awarded a university place this year because independent school pupils are three times as likely to gain A* grades as children from state comprehensives. Some 17.9 per cent of exams sat in the private sector were awarded an A* compared with only 5.8 of those in comprehensives and 5.5 per cent in sixth-form and further education colleges, according to latest figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications.

Union leaders have warned that the dominance of A*s in the independent school scector could risk leading to a sharp drop in the number of comprehensive school pupils admitted to Britain’s top universities, including those belonging to the elite Russell Group.

Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, said: “Whatever its intentions, the introduction of the A* grade will do even more to favour the conveyor belt from private education to top universities.

“Britain remains one of the most unequal and class-bound societies in the developed world. We cannot lift the barriers to social mobility without radical action to make the UK less unequal, yet the policies of deep cuts to public spending are doing the opposite.”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Students, said: “The introduction of A* at A level has introduced a way for the Russell Group of universities of filtering candidates for selection without the rounded interview processes which have enabled many candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds to go to those universities."

However,  Wendy Piatt, Russell Group director-general, suggested the fault lay with schools and not with universities.

“Although there has been a real increase in numbers of students at our universities from lower socio-economic groups we remain concerned about the under-representation of students from comprehensive schools among the highest achieving A-level candidates," she said.

“Ensuring that students from low-income backgrounds fulfil their potential at school is by far and away the most effective way of increasing their chances of going to a leading university.”

This year, only 13 universities have used the A* during the admissions process, including Cambridge, Imperial and Warwick. Oxford is among dozens of leading universities ignoring the grade following claims it was too hard for teachers to predict and could lead to a sharp increase in pupils admitted from independent schools.

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