Newspaper reports last weekend (notably The Sunday Telegraph and Mail on Sunday) suggested that many leading universities will not make use of the new A* grade at A level when it is introduced in 2010 because independent school pupils will achieve more A* grades than their state school counterparts. This could jeopardise universities’ attempts to widening participation.
HMC’s General Secretary,Geoff Lucas, responded by saying that universities should be giving credit to pupils who are best equipped to do well in the subject they are applying for. If there are reservations, they should be about potential differences between subjects and exam boards in the awarding of A*, not how different schools will perform. He called the universities’ thinking “woolly, lily-livered and dishonest”.
The publication of this year’s A level results has further fuelled the debate about the possible use (or not) of the A* grade by universities in 2010.
HMC’s position on this is as follows:
- Speculation about the use of the A* grade is premature. It will not be available until 2010.
- A degree of caution about the A* grade is sensible and understandable. Early modelling by QCA, ISC (and others) suggests that there may be some unusual profiles in relation to individual subjects and wider than expected variations in the number of A* grades awarded in different subjects by different awarding bodies. This is not a good reason not to use the A* but universities (as well as schools and pupils) need to be aware of this possibility.
- With almost 10% of students nationally now gaining 3 (or more) Grade As at A level (and 30% of students from the independent sector), universities are desperate to differentiate between the brightest and the best for highly competitive courses.
- ISC modelling of A level results last year suggests that 16% of all A level entries form the independent sector would be awarded an A*. The figure nationally is around 6%. This supports the suggestion that independently educated pupils will achieve comparatively more A*s than state school pupils.
Commenting on this issue, Geoff Lucas (HMC’s General Secretary) said:
“For selector universities not to use the new A* grade would be perverse. They would be cutting off their nose to spite their face. If they discount the A* on the grounds that some pupils might be better prepared and will do better than others, they might as well abandon the whole public examination system. This would result in chaos and anarchy, with each university resorting to setting its own admissions tests. This is not a prospect anyone, whether in the independent or state sector, would relish. The A* is being introduced to try and halt this tide. If universities ignore it, they will be creating a huge rod for their own backs, as well as for pupils and schools”.