Heads warn of university chaos

16th September 2005 at 01:00
UK proposals to create a new university applications system could damage the prospects of Scots pupils the reforms are intended to benefit, the Headteachers' Association of Scotland has warned.

Plans put out for consultation last week by the Department for Education and Skills would mean that pupils could only apply for a university place once they had received their exam grades.

Aimed at widening access to higher education for "non-traditional entrants", this would do away with the current system where applicants are made a "conditional offer" by a university, dependent upon their achieving certain grades in their exams.

But the change could leave around 8 per cent of Scottish applicants stranded in the middle of the earlier summer holidays north of the border, unless guidance teachers or Scottish Qualifications Authority co-ordinators volunteer to give up part of their six-week break to help them apply.

Currently, around 70 per cent of Scottish students achieve their university entrance requirements in S5 but stay on in S6 for a further year of study.

They would therefore be unaffected by a move to a post-exam admission system.

A further 20 per cent know exactly what they plan to do at university and could proceed with the applications process without the assistance of teachers, once they received their SQA exam results.

However, Bill McGregor, general secretary of the HAS, said it was estimated that 5-8 per cent of Scottish students, mainly from families who do not have a tradition of going on to higher education, would need advice from teachers to help them make university choices.

He said: "I am disappointed that the consultation document skates over what is a very serious issue for the most disadvantaged pupils who may need strong professional assistance from their school. have a big concern that something as important as university advice should be left to a voluntary arrangement."

It is anticipated that under the proposals, exam results would be issued a week earlier than currently, towards the end of July, when Scottish teachers and pupils would be halfway through their summer holidays.

A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland, the body which represents the Scottish university principals, said it hoped a new system would allow universities to keep back around 10 per cent of "conditional" places. She said the proposals appeared to be "more of a solution to an English problem than a Scottish problem".

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