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Six hundred sleep over for success

More than 600 parents and students camped overnight at a Stockport sixth-form college to secure a place there for next September.

Aquinas, the UK's largest Roman Catholic sixth-form college, opened its gym to accommodate those desperate to ensure their applications were first.

The admissions office opened at 9am on Saturday but, in scenes reminiscent of the January sales, parents and pupils arrived on Thursday evening only to be persuaded to return the next morning. Ann Valentine and Julie Phillips, of Cheadle Hulme, arrived at 7.30am on Friday to ensure their daughters, Kate and Rianna, who were performing in a charity dance show that night, would get a place.

Mrs Valentine, who was tenth in the queue, said: "We were very prepared - we took sleeping bags, umbrellas, folding chairs, a flask of soup and thermals.

"At 2.45pm we were allowed into the gym and given raffle-type tickets with numbers on to secure our places.

"I managed eventually to get some sleep but it was like one big teenage sleepover, with pupils playing cards and talking all night." Mrs Phillips, who took a day off work to queue, said: "Camping out was a laugh and the staff were brilliant in the way they organised us.

"It's worth doing if it means your children are going to be happy."

Aquinas has been in the top 20 colleges in the national exam league tables every year since they were established.

In 2003, the overall pass rate at A-level was 96 per cent, excluding general studies, and 51 per cent of students achieved a grade A or B, compared with 46 per cent nationally. Aquinas allocates most places to Roman Catholic pupils but for the remaining 300 places the college has a strict first come, first served application process.

The college is to reassess its admissions policy but Eddie Moore, vice-principal, said it would not introduce academic selection.

He said: "We don't set out to get good exam results, but to care for our students. The effect that has of getting good exam results does not come as a surprise.

"You could say we've become a victim of our own success. But we don't want pupils taking time off school to come and queue here. That's a nonsense."

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