Headmaster says its time for new A-level gold standard

Author: By Richard Garner, Education Editor

Richard Cairns, headmaster of Brighton College, has accused them of being “lily-livered” in failing to recognise the grade, which will be on offer to A-level candidates for the first time in next year’s examinations.

Today’s results are expected to show a rise in the percentage of scripts awarded A grades for the 27th year in succession. The country’s most elite universities have complained that the plethora of students with three straight A grade passes has made it more difficult to select the brightest candidates for popular courses such as law and medicine.

Yet many universities will not take A* grades into account in the admissions process next year because they want to see how the new system beds down. The Government’s new advisory body, the National Council for Educational Excellence, has recommended they should wait until all teachers and pupils get to grips with the system.

Cambridge University has, however, said its standard offer for next year will be two A grades and an A* grade pass. “Very few candidates are expected to gain the new A* grades because there is a stronger emphasis on the harder element of the A-level paper where students are expected to get 90 per cent on each paper,” said Mr Cairns.

The exam has also been changed from next year to allow more open-ended questions to give candidates more opportunity to show development of their critical thinking skills.

“At a stroke, this will cut by three-quarters the number of top grades, enabling top universities to distinguish the outstanding candidates from the merely good,” Mr Cairns added.

“Yet, because we are told that independent school pupils are likely to achieve a high proportion of A* grades, universities are bizarrely shying away from embracing a change that was designed to help. It is also aimed at encouraging the very best sixth-formers to stretch themselves, which is also surely in the interest of the universities.”

He added: “By not committing to make A* grade offers next year, Oxford University and others are not only making their own lives more difficult, but are colluding in an attempt to conceal a growing gap in performance between the state and independent sector that needs addressing, not ignoring.

“The approach of these leading universities is little short of cowardly.”

However, university admissions officers insist the decision has not been taken to ensure more applicants from state schools are selected.

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