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Earlier A-levels to ease squeeze

Sixth-formers could take some of their A-level exams in the summer half-term holiday under proposals for a new university admissions system, The TES can reveal.

A-levels would start earlier in May, results would be released in mid-July and first-year undergraduate terms would start on October 1 to allow students to apply to university after they received their grades, ministers will be advised next week.

The changes, drawn up by a commission led by the Secondary Heads Association and including leading private school heads, will now be investigated by a Government task force. Ministers have already indicated they favour a new system of "post-qualification applications".

If accepted, they could end years of complaints about the system whereby students are given provisional offers in the autumn term.

But teachers may question the loss of a week's teaching time. Some will also be sceptical about half-term exams.

Under the proposals, from 2008 students would have until April of their A-level year to make a first application to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

But changes to the academic timetable would ensure most of the applications process occurred after results were released.

A-levels would be moved forward by a week, to start in early May. Exams would be timetabled in half-term, under the supervision of dedicated invigilators rather than teachers.

The proposals suggest teachers asked to be in school during half-term would be given time off in lieu later in the term.

Exam boards would take advantage of technological improvements, including the electronic distribution of papers for marking, to bring forward results day from mid-August to mid-July.

Students would have as little as five days to apply to chosen universities.

Universities would then have time for extra admissions tests and, if necessary, interviews.

Next week's report will argue that the current system is unfair to students because it is based on predicted, rather than achieved, grades. Half of teachers' predictions turn out to be incorrect.

It says it is also wrong to expect youngsters to make decisions on their future at the start of Year 13 when they could do so a year later. The change could cut the number of entries universities have to process: 2.5 million applications are made for 350,000 places.

Ministers are not committed to the proposal in detail, and members of the commission say it could change. The call for change comes with controversy surrounding ministers' apparent reluctance to embrace the most radical aspects of last month's Tomlinson report.

Writing in today's TES, Dr Geoff Parks, Cambridge university's head of admissions, warns of "horrifying" consequences if ministers fails to implement Tomlinson.

Leader 22, opinion 23

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