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An A-level change to cut tears

At last, a more sensible system of university admissions: next week, proposals from a commission led by the Secondary Heads Association will show that it is technically feasible to have students applying for university after they know their exam results (page 1). Given that half of all A-level predictions are wrong, it is hard to see any good reason why this change should be rejected. Helped by the magic of new technology, it will need a slightly earlier start to exams, and a slightly later start to the university year.

This will help students and universities to make better-informed choices, cut down on bureaucracy and reduce the anxiety for young people - and their teachers and parents - as A-level results time rolls around. It could also mean fewer tears when the envelopes are opened, as there will be no conditional offers to be lost. Most important, though, the changes should give working-class applicants a better chance of getting into a top university. Under the present system they seem much more likely to apply to safer institutions because they don't have the confidence they will get high grades. Some teachers may also underestimate their potential.

From 2008, if the proposals go ahead, students from less university-oriented families who do well at A-level will be able to apply to Oxbridge and other top-rank universities, secure in their results.

The Government is committed to widening access, and has already achieved some success. Figures out this week show that state-educated pupils now make up 68 per cent of new undergraduates at the top universities, up 7 per cent since Labour came into power.

But there is more to be done. The Schwartz report, which recommended post-qualification applications last summer, urged universities to provide more equality of opportunity. But it did not say enough. More must be done not only for students from lowlier backgrounds, but also for mature students and those who wish to enter university through non-conventional and vocational routes.

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