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MPs back A-levels in the spring called for

Sarah Cassidy reports on the political split over helping poorer pupils get to university

Sixth-formers should take their A-levels in the spring so that universities can select candidates based on their real, not predicted, grades, MPs said this week.

The plan was welcomed by teacher and university organisations who condemned the current system as "notoriously unreliable".

Teenagers' GCSE results should also be sent to universities enabling them to write to bright youngsters and invite them to apply two years later, the Commons education select committee report on access to higher education recommended.

Chairman Barry Sheerman said: "This would really stimulate kids from all parts of the country and all backgrounds."

However, three committee members - one Lib Dem and two Conservatives - refused to accept the report which was approved by the remaining seven Labour MPs.

They issued their own reports in which they condemned the committee for failing to criticise Gordon Brown over the Laura Spence affair. The Chancellor attacked Magdalen College, Oxford, last summer over its refusal to give the state school student a place.

Mr Brown accused the college of using an "old school tie" interview system. The Ps argued Mr Brown's intervention had been inappropriate and his accusations unfounded.

The committee had been told that students from poor backgrounds are still under-represented in universities, although progress had been made in the past 20 years.

Higher education minister Baroness Blackstone told MPs that around 80 per cent of children of professionals and managers went to university, but only about 17 per cent of the children from lower socio-economic groups did so.

Research was needed into how pupils with the same exam results from state and independent schools go on to perform at university, the committee report said. If A-levels were not the best predictor of performance then perhaps a new type of assessment was needed to choose undergraduates, it said. The committee had reservations about aptitude tests, but believed they could play a part.

MPs also backed a report which called for a six-term year with exams taken in the fifth term, in April and May. This would allow the sixth term of sixth-formers' last year to be used for university interviews.The committee warned that the Government's new advanced extension awards for the brightest 18-year-olds could disadvantage students from some schools.

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