Fine-tuning required 1

September 3, 2004

The debate about A-level grade inflation (or not) misses the point. One of the grades' main uses is to enable universities to obtain the best candidates for available places.

If an increasing proportion of the population obtain the highest grade, then that selection process will become arbitrary rather than fair.

There is no need to change A levels or the way in which they are graded to restore confidence in these exams. But there is a need to provide more information. In addition to the grade, examination boards could inform the candidate (and universities) of the position they achieved in the exam-taking population as a whole. So 511/600 marks, grade A, top 8 per cent, for example. Universities could specify an offer (in percentile terms) that asks the candidate to achieve at a level that they require for their degree programmes. Thus, if Poppleton University thinks their degree needs or merits the top 5 per cent of the population, that could be specified. At confirmation time, they would have the option of confirming a place to the near-misses.

This would end the lottery of grade A meaning both the top 1 per cent and just squeezed into the top 22 per cent - I think we all would acknowledge that there is a wide gulf between the two.

Cliff Hancock
Bristol

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