Saturday, August 19, 2006


Fresh concerns were raised about the 'gold standard' of A-levels yesterday after it emerged that more than 10,000 straight-A students have been rejected by Oxbridge. The bright sixth-formers did not receive offers from Oxford and Cambridge despite the fact they are predicted to achieve at least three grade As tomorrow. They were turned down as a surfeit of teenagers are emerging with a clutch of top qualifications, making it increasingly difficult for universities to distinguish between them.

The figures will fuel concern that A-levels are becoming increasingly meaningless, with pass rates expected to nudge 100 per cent as they rise for the 24th consecutive year. Last year, pass rates increased to more than 96 per cent while the number of A grades also rose to more than 22 per cent, leaving many teenagers celebrating with at least five top A-levels. This compares to less than 12 per cent a decade ago. The government has pledged to toughen up A-levels by introducing harder questions to help stretch the brightest by 2008. A trial is being launched later this year. And a new supergrade of A* will be introduced as a result to provide better differentiation between top achieving students.

Dr Geoff Parks, director of admissions at Cambridge University, said: 'There will be students with very good A-level results that haven't got offers this year. 'It's now recognised that there needs to be more stretch and challenge to test the more able students better and the grading system needs to provide better differentiation. 'There are plans afoot to deal with this and it's not a question of beating on the door. It's more a case of waiting for the reforms which are being piloted to come through. 'Although it's frustrating, it's going to take a couple of years before these reforms are actually tried out, it's better than rushing the reforms without them being properly piloted.'

Referring to A-levels, he added: 'The reliability of assessment has improved but at the expense of making the exams more predictable. 'That has reduced the opportunity to test some of those sorts of more advanced skills that the universities are looking for and limits the opportunity for students with those skills to demonstrate them.'

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