All schools and colleges in England are being invited to trial scholastic aptitude tests, similar to those used for college entrance in the United States, which could eventually be used with A-levels.
The National Foundation for Educational Research will conduct the study, following 50,000 students from sixth form to degree level, and report to ministers in 2010. But in the shorter term, a new university admissions system, under which students would apply for courses after they get their A-level results, could be introduced within three years.
Ministers have launched a consultation on plans which they say will make applications fairer. Two options have been put forward under the proposed post qualifications applications (PQA) system. Both are based on A-level results being released by early August, two weeks earlier than at present.
Under option A, all students would submit up to four initial expressions of interest by March, but would not apply formally until after results were published. Under option B, universities would offer some places before results, and reserve others until afterwards.
The system is being introduced after a Government inquiry last year found that less than half of the predicted grades supplied to universities by schools in advance of A-levels were accurate.
The Secondary Heads Association supported the change. But the Independent Schools Association condemned the option of holding back some places until after results, claiming the Government was planning "social engineering".
Sir Peter Lampl, Sutton Trust chairman, said he was delighted the Government was funding the trial of Sats with the trust and the College Board, which owns the test. Schools interested can contact Anne Milne on 01753 637007.