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Last Updated: Monday, 18 October 2004, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
A++ grade 'will select the best'
A higher tier of grades should help universities to select students
Plans to award the very best students A+ or A++ grades in new diplomas have been welcomed by universities.

The proposals, by former chief inspector of schools Mike Tomlinson, are in response to complaints from university admissions tutors that they cannot identify the top candidates.

In 2004, 20% of A-level entries were awarded a grade A.

In a major shake-up of the English exam system, Mr Tomlinson says the new grades would stretch the best.

The plans for a four-stage diploma have been designed to stretch academically-able pupils, while assuring employers that all school leavers have basic skills.

Mr Tomlinson, introducing his proposals, said that he wanted "scholarship to flourish" - and to remove the "glass ceiling" for the most gifted students.

The report acknowledges the advanced level courses should be more testing and says the current A-level stage exams should be made more challenging for the brightest students.

They could be awarded new grades of A+ and A++, with the A++ grade only achieved by about 5% of students.

And, to make it easier for universities to tell who the brightest students are, all candidates would be given detailed transcripts alongside their diploma awards.

An extended project, which would allow students to show their in-depth knowledge of a subject, will also be made available to universities as part of the admissions process.

Assessing potential

Universities say these measures will help them in the selection process.

A spokesman for Warwick University said the new grades and the transcript would help identify those students with the potential to benefit from university life.

"One without the other would be a missed opportunity," the spokesman said.

"Decent transcripts, which give a lot more information about the candidate as a whole, helps us to identify potential."

Pro-vice-chancellor at Cambridge University, Professor Melveena McKendrick, said: "We are particularly pleased by the working group's proposal to introduce more intellectually challenging elements to advanced-level 14-19 education, which will stretch high-ability students and better prepare them for university."

"In principle, we would welcome A+ and A++ grades at A-level, but we would much prefer them to be awarded for exceptional performance in the later, more challenging A2 modules, rather than simply for achieving good marks in every module," said Professor McKendrick.

"Module grades (or, even better, marks) would provide universities with a much clearer picture of an applicant's abilities in comparison with the rest of the cohort."

The director of Oxford Colleges Admissions Office, Jane Minto, also backed the proposals - welcoming the "releasing of actual marks for A levels ... and providing more opportunities to stretch able students".

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