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Monday, 22 May, 2000, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
A-level timing is 'unfair'
Oxford University
Oxford University has struggled to recruit state school pupils
Changing the A-level timetable so that results arrive before pupils apply to university could help more state school pupils find places in the best universities.

Chris Price, who is chairing an independent inquiry into the school year, says that the current system of applying for university before taking A-levels should be scrapped.

"This is the only country in the world where pupils apply for places in university without knowing their grades," said Mr Price.

"The present system is expensive, bureaucratic and might be discouraging able pupils from applying for university."

Laura Spence
Laura Spence: rejected by Oxford but welcomed by Harvard
Changing the school year so that students apply after results are known would make the system fairer for bright comprehensive pupils, he believes.

For the most able state school pupils, knowing that they have very high A-level grades would give them greater confidence to apply for universities such as Oxford and Cambridge.

And there will be pupils, he says, who will not apply for any university places at all, even though their grades will subsequently prove to have been sufficient to stay on for higher education.


Less than half of pupils applying to Oxford last year were from state schools - an imbalance that the education secretary has recently described as "unacceptable".

And highlighting the under-representation of state sector pupils in Oxford, a comprehensive school girl from the north-east of England, Laura Spence, has won a scholarship for Harvard in the United States - while being refused a place at Oxford.

Mr Price, who is a former MP and vice chancellor, says that the present system of applying on the basis of predicted grades was more likely to favour the type of schools which had a tradition of sending pupils to Oxbridge.

These schools make sure that pupils apply for Oxbridge places, while their equally talented counterparts in less traditionally academic schools are much less likely to apply.

The inquiry into the school year is being held under the auspices of the Local Government Association. While local authorities do not have the power to change the exam timetable, they can change the term times - which would have a large bearing on when exams could be taken.

The inquiry is considering a range of options, including switching to four, five or six term years. And if A-level papers were to be marked and returned before the university application process, then the exams would need to be taken earlier in the year.

If the Local Government Association recommends a change, the first opportunity for its introduction would be no sooner than than 2004.

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See also:

18 May 00 | Education
University degree levels reform call
15 May 00 | Education
Oxford seeks state school students
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