The country’s biggest exam board is supporting a move to a post-qualification admissions (PQA) system for higher education – which would see students receive university offers based on actual results rather than predicted grades.
The AQA board says the move could help more young people “make the most of their qualifications” but it says the system may require students to sit A-level exams “a little earlier”.
Colin Hughes, AQA’s chief executive, said: “Post-qualification admissions could help more young people get the university places they deserve, but schools, exam boards and higher education all need to be willing to give a little to make it happen.
“If schools can prepare their Year 13 students for exams that start a little earlier, exam boards can mark and award grades a little more quickly and more universities can move the start of term into October, there’s no reason why we can’t do this.”
Earlier this year, the Department for Education began a consultation on how it might implement a new post-qualifications admissions system, which could see a “compressed” exam timetable.
And education secretary Gavin Williamson backed PQA at the end of last year, saying the current admissions system was “letting down the brightest pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds”.
He said: “By using predicted grades, it is limiting the aspirations of students before they know what they can achieve. We need to radically change a system that breeds low aspiration and unfairness.”
AQA believes "small" changes to the timing of exams, teaching, careers advice, results and the university term would be enough to make a PQA system viable.
However, in a paper on PQA to be published tomorrow, the board warns that just significantly shortening the time available for marking exams and awarding grades "would create risks including the ability of exam boards to recruit enough examiners, the quality of their marking and being able to issue results on time".
"The window for marking and awarding is already a tight one," AQA said. "And as exam scripts are scanned and digitised by exam boards shortly after they are received from schools and colleges, there is little scope for technology to further compress the process."
Mr Hughes added: “The main risk comes if we look to one part of the system to shoulder more of the burden than it can realistically take. But, if we spread the load across the whole system, we reduce the risks to the point that PQA could really work.”