A-level diversity may be rewarded

27th June 1997 at 01:00
Ben Russell reports on UCAS proposals to give higher points to students taking a broad range of subjects.

A-level students could be given credit for choosing a broad education under radical proposals being considered by university admission authorities.

Higher scores under the A-levels points system could be given to students taking subjects from different disciplines in changes currently under consideration by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

The current system gives points for each A-level grade, and is used as a rule-of-thumb measure of performance on school league tables. Under reforms being considered by UCAS there might be extra points if a student studies both arts and sciences, and more still if a candidate chooses a combination such as arts, science and languages.

Other proposals include awarding A-level-style points to students who gain key skills in areas such as numeracy, literacy, computer proficiency and communications.

The plans, due to go out to consultation later this year, echo Labour's plans to move towards a broadly-based advanced diploma to supersede traditional A-levels and other courses such as GNVQs.

The Government's new exams superbody, the Qualification and Curriculum Authority, will take advantage of a year's delay in the implementation of reform to start work on the development when it takes over control of Britain's qualifications this autumn.

The university admission system will be high on the political agenda if Sir Ron Dearing's review of higher education recommends a move to so-called "two-plus-two" degrees as is widely expected. Such degrees involve spending two years at college before finishing the course with a further two years at university.

UCAS chief executive Tony Higgins said reform of the points system was in its early stages, but a weighted system could be used to persuade schools to broaden the education they offer.

He said: "We are looking at the A-level points scores and we are going to start very wide consultation in September. One idea, and it's only an idea which is by no means fixed, is that you could give some kind of credit to students who have A-levels through more than one domain.

"If it tends to change school's position in league tables, they might wish to ensure they get students into A-levels in more than one domain."

He said another idea was to allocate points separately for key skills to make the points system more relevant to employers.

But there would be no guarantee any weighting would give students with a wide range of A-levels a better chance of a higher education place. A-level points are used as a rule-of-thumb guide to university offers, but admissions tutors often specify which grades and subjects they require.

Headteachers backed the idea of breadth at A-level, but warned that encouraging broader study through the points system or by other means may have little effect.

Arthur De Caux, senior assistant secretary at the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "The NAHT welcomes the work being done by UCAS in coming up with a fuller and fairer points system for university entrance. We have reservations, though, about whether points can be awarded for breadth and would prefer an approach which built breadth into the studies of all post-16 students."

A review of the points system coincides with a new electronic clearing system for university places. For the first time students will be able to find constantly updated information on the Internet.

Longer-term plans include transforming the entire university entrance process into an electronic system to limit the annual scramble for places after A-level results, or even using the network for a computerised record of achievement.

A spokeswoman for the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals said: "We welcome any move which improves the match between candidates and courses. We would also support universities describing their courses very clearly to improve the match."

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