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Tired of predicting grades

Half of estimated grades for degree admissions are wrong. Now heads have backed moves to use actual results instead, reports Michael Shaw

Headteachers have backed plans to make pupils apply for university courses after their A-level results, saying the changes would not disrupt the school year.

They have joined Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, in supporting an overhaul to the system where universities offer places based on predicted grades.

The proposal is one of a series of radical recommendations for higher education admissions that were produced by a recent government taskforce.

Critics of the switch to post qualifications applications (PQA) had said it might mean pupils sitting A-level exams in the Easter term.

The Association for Teachers and Lecturers said the change might lead to a scramble for places.

But a joint report due to be published next month by the Secondary Heads Association, the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, and the Girls' Schools Association is expected to outline how the new system could be implemented by 2007.

John Dunford, general secretary of SHA, said details of the report had not been finalised but it showed claims about A-levels having to move to Easter were "rubbish". "After 10 years of talking about PQA, the question is now not whether it will happen but when and how," he said.

There is currently a gap of around six weeks between the date pupils get their results and start university. Heads estimate the gap would need to be extended by four weeks to make PQA practical. One week is automatically gained by the fact that universities already get A-level results seven days ahead of pupils.

More time can be saved through changes by exam boards, such as electronic distribution of papers, which helped Edexcel produce its A-level results a week early this year. And university vice-chancellors have indicated that they might be willing to delay the start of term for first-year students by a week or even a fortnight. Such changes would mean A2 exams might only need to be brought forward a week, if at all.

Steven Schwartz, vice-chancellor of Brunel university and leader of the university admissions taskforce, said the change would be fairer on pupils because half of predicted grades were wrong.

The taskforce also recommended the Government should look at introducing aptitude tests similar to the Standard Aptitude Tests used in the US for university entry.

Its other proposals included making universities take social background into account. The taskforce also said a centre of expertise on university admissions should be created, which teachers could contact for advice.


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