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Bid to give A-levels relative values

AN OVERHAUL of A-level league tables is being planned to make them more realistic and bring in vocational qualifications.

The Department for Education and Employment is likely to consult in the autumn on changes to the points system used to grade schools and further education colleges.

The proposals, drafted by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, would reflect more closely the relative value of grades, bring in a points score for general national vocational qualifications and also include Scottish qualifications and the international baccalaureate.

Meanwhile, the assessment of GNVQs is likely to be overhauled, with students awarded grades from A to E - like A-levels - instead of the present three-tier distinction, merit or pass.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, in its Qualifying for Success consultation of 2,000 schools, colleges and employers, reported a positive response to the proposal. It is likely to make recommendations to ministers in January.

The move would bring England a step closer to a unified system of vocational and academic FE qualifications and make the introduction of an overarching post-16 qualification more likely.

Under the present points score system for A-levels, students are awarded 10 points for a grade A and two points for a grade E. AS- levels score half the points. Performance tables for schools and colleges give the average point score per entrant.

But the system is seen as fatally flawed because it assumes an A is five times as good as an E even though the pass scores are respectively 70 per cent and 40 per cent. It also entirely excludes GNVQs - the vocational equivalent of two A-levels.

The system was developed by UCAS's predecessor, the Universities Central Council on Admissions, as an internal method of accounting entry requirements for university courses. UCAS says it has been hijacked.

The Government is proposing as an interim measure that a GNVQ distinction be awarded 18 points - equivalent to either an A and a B or three Cs at A-level - with 12 points (two Cs) for a merit and four points (two Es) for a pass.

Tony Higgins, chief executive of UCAS, said: "Adding GNVQs is a start. But the Government will fall into the same trap of having a points system that is not adequate."

UCAS's proposals are likely to suggest a sliding scale rather than the strict mathematical progression of two points per grade. For example, an A at A-level might attract twice the points of an E. A second system could measure students' key skills.

But ministers will have to tread a delicate line between exam boards, the QCA, and their Scottish equivalents who will be concerned that Highers are correctly aligned.

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