Unfair comparisons

October 18, 2012

Having recently observed at close hand the stress placed upon one student studying the International Baccalaureate and seeking admission to a University of Cambridge college, I would advise state-school pupils to stick to A levels if they want to go there.

My concern is partly to do with how Cambridge colleges measure IB against A-level scores. The maximum obtainable in IB is 45 points. A conditional place at the college in question in modern languages required 42 IB points, which the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service deems to be the equivalent of between four and five A* A-level grades. However, a student sitting A levels normally requires only one or two A*s to get in.

The college also stipulated that scores of 7, 7 and 6 must be obtained in the three IB subjects taken at higher standard. A student taking A levels would concentrate for two years on three subjects alone (with an AS exam at the end of the first year to measure progress). The IB student has one all-or-nothing exam at the end of year two and has to spend time on three additional standard-grade subjects that may or may not be areas of strength. To me, 42 points and 7, 7, 6 at IB or two A* A levels appears an unfair comparison.

My other concern is how Cambridge appears to work against state-school IB students. It takes 59 per cent of its intake from the state sector, with the rest from private schools (which represent only 7 per cent of the UK total). The Cambridge admissions office maintains that it has rigorously researched the effect on Tripos results of their colleges' requirements for IB and A levels. It adds that the admissions procedure is fair and allows colleges to show some flexibility with "borderline" cases, taking account of students' backgrounds, reports from schools, etc. "Potential" is a key factor. Presumably the colleges also take into account the often more challenging learning environment experienced by students in the state compared with the private system.

The state-college student in question failed to get 7, 6, 6 by one mark and was rejected.

Geoffrey Richardson, Horsham, West Sussex

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