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Row as Ucas pushes exam revision guide

But the university admissions service denies endorsing a publisher's products. Julie Henry reports

HEADteachers and parents have attacked the university admissions service for "giving the seal of approval" to exam revision guides sold by a private company.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) has sent order forms to thousands of students who are waiting for offers of university places next year. Publicity material about the guides, produced by Birmingham-based Curriculum Press, includes the Ucas logo.

The mailing contains a letter from Tony Higgins, Ucas chief executive, which says: "Please find enclosed information about Curriculum Press, which may be of interest as you plan for university or college." He adds: "I hope that the enclosed information will be useful."

The cramming guides, available as a book or CD-Rom, include AS and A2 specimen questions written by chief examiners along with "perfect" answers and mark schemes. The order form says "Don't let those grades slip away!"

Prices range from pound;13.99 to pound;16.99.

In small type at the bottom of a page is the line: "Ucas does not endorse promotional literature from any organisation." However, the admissions service has been accused by the Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Head Teachers of appearing to lend its name to the guides, which are the only exam revision details Ucas has sent to students.

John Dunford, general secretary of the SHA, said: "Ucas is the official body for university applications and has given a seal of approval to a product without evidence of its quality.

"Pupils and parents might feel duty bound to spend this money when a letter from the Ucas chief executive says the information is 'useful' to their plans for university."

An angry parent, whose daughter received the literature, said: "The largest type shows Ucas and two official-looking logos. The letter gives every appearance of endorsing the 'enclosed information'.

"It is wholly inappropriate at a time when it is important to restore confidence in the A-level exams."

Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat education spokeman, also criticised the mailing. "This endorsement of a particular product and the confusion it could create in students and parents is unacceptable," he said.

Ucas, a charity, is the central applications service for full-time university courses in the UK. It sends information to more than 450,000 students about five times a year. Companies can bid for inclusion in the mailing. Prices start at pound;20,000. An exclusive mailing is also available to the highest bidder.

Banks, exam boards, insurance companies, computer firms, the Department for Education and Skills and publishing companies have used the mailing list.

The pound;2 million profit made by Ucas Enterprises Ltd, the service's commercial arm, is ploughed back into Ucas to keep down the cost of applications.

Mr Higgins denied the mailing was misleading and said Ucas clearly stated that it did not endorse any literature it sent out. "Just as students know there are many banks offering student financial services, they also know there are lots of revision guides out there. We have only had one letter of complaint," he said.

A spokesman for Curriculum Press said Ucas had the final say over the content of the mailing.

"It has control over what is sent out. All we do is supply our leaflet. There are many revision guides on the market. We are just one."

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