University chiefs commit to fair admissions

Whatever route pupils take through the senior phase of Curriculum for Excellence, they will be treated equally

Elizabeth Buie

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University principals have committed themselves to reviewing their admissions policies and practices to ensure that pupils are treated equally, irrespective of the routes they have taken through the senior phase of Curriculum for Excellence.

Universities Scotland's latest report, University Engagement with the Curriculum for Excellence, will go some way to allaying the concerns of schools and parents that admissions officers would favour applicants who completed all their Highers in a single year over those doing two-year Highers andor a number of Highers across S4-6.

Professor Grant Jarvie, former vice-principal of the University of Stirling, who chaired the working group, said: "University leaders affirm that they continue to be committed to fair admissions policies and that these will allow equal consideration of candidates who possess the necessary knowledge and skills base irrespective of what routes they may have taken through the senior phase (S4-6) of Curriculum for Excellence."

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, said: "This promise on the part of Scottish universities will be hugely welcomed by school leaders who have been increasingly concerned about the future opportunities for their students."

The report says explicitly that "universities will not be able to assume there is a single `normal' model for when students are presented for Highers or that learners will, for example, necessarily have the opportunity to study for a full range of Highers in a single year". But it also suggests that applicants should have a record of achievement which includes information about the model of senior phase offered by their school.

The statement is not binding, however, and the test will be whether it is translated into action in all university departments.

The report also expresses concern that some of the "learner journey" examples on Education Scotland's website did not offer the best guidance for entry to the university courses aspired to.

"Closer dialogue is required between Education Scotland and the university sector to ensure that published examples of senior phase journeys in secondary school or college are aligned realistically towards progression to `chosen' degree courses," it added.

Bill Maxwell, chair of the CfE implementation group, said: "It is vital that university admissions procedures are responsive to the major changes to qualifications being introduced by implementation of CfE."

Recommendations - to be carried out `as a matter of urgency'

Universities should:

- undertake a review of what young people will have acquired through CfE and the new qualifications: if some pathways are considered as better preparation for specific programmes than others, they should be specific about that;

- make explicit what they expect on arrival for entry - whether at year 1, 2 or 3 - and plan for how admissions systems will be revised;

- re-examine specific requirements, in particular four or five Highers all at one sitting;

- publish guidance for schools and prospective students, once the specifications for the new qualifications are available;

- support the government and others in developing an accessible evidence base to show what learning and skills are actually being achieved under CfE;

- engage in discussions on how to respond to the government's priorities to reduce duplication (especially at Advanced Higherfirst year of higher education) - this could include offering a blend of Advanced Highers and first- year university courses;

- contribute to CPD for schools, including collaborating on Advanced Highers and baccalaureates.

Over the next two years, universities should:

- engage with the government, SQA and Education Scotland on the assessment of broader, softer, more generic achievement;

- improve methods for recognising prior experiential learning of older applicants;

- consider revising their own approaches to teaching and learning in light of emerging evidence about CfE.

Photo by Simon Price: Aberdeen school pupils at Aberdeen University

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Elizabeth Buie

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