A-level rejig is key to application overhaul

June 1, 2001

Major changes to the university applications process came a step closer this week after the results of a consultation on the school year.

Consultation by the Local Government Association has found substantial support for changing the school timetable so that exams can be taken earlier in the year. This would allow university hopefuls to apply for places knowing their exam results, a so-called post-qualifications applications system.

Key to achieving a PQA system is the changing of the school year from three terms to six. Three out of five of the 2,700 parents, teachers and head teachers consulted supported this proposal.

This move could allow for exams to be taken in the fifth term in April and May, a month earlier than at present. Some 61 per cent overall thought that making term five the assessment term would benefit schools. However, teachers were more sceptical - 48 per cent backed this proposal.

The consultation revealed 62 per cent overall in favour of a PQA system that does away with the uncertainty of the present university applications system, which relies on predictions of grades and conditional offers.

School teachers were slightly less supportive of a PQA system (60 per cent), parents were most in favour (64 per cent) followed by head teachers (63 per cent).

Universities have long been in favour, in principle, of moving to a PQA system. But they are relying on schools to restructure their year to enable exams to be taken early enough so that candidates would have their results in July. Universities are confident that they could manage an applications process that starts in July.

Tony Bruce, director of policy development for Universities UK, said: "In principle, vice-chancellors would favour a PQA system provided it was workable from the perspective of the applicants and the staff who manage university admissions processes. The earlier publication of A-level results would make a PQA system much more feasible."

The results of the LGA consultation will be considered by the Independent Commission on the Organisation of the School Year. The commission plans to issue a response in September.

This will be followed by discussions with the LGA's education and lifelong learning executive with the intention of announcing a proposed way forward in December.

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