Students will need at least one A* A level to enter the University of Cambridge next year, the institution announced this week.
The higher grade will be introduced from 2010, but the National Council for Educational Excellence (NCEE) has recommended that universities ignore it for the first few years after its introduction because of concerns about its impact on widening participation.
However, Cambridge said it had chosen to make use of the A* at the first available opportunity because it was turning away record numbers of students predicted to gain three A-grade A levels, and hoped that using the new grade would help it to choose between candidates.
A spokeswoman for the university said: “In view of the desire for both clarity and standardisation of offer levels wherever possible, it has been decided to make use of the opportunity the A* grade presents, and to revise the standard offer in most subjects from AAA to A*AA for entry in 2010.”
In October, the NCEE warned that there was “no evidence” that A* attainment could be accurately predicted by teachers at this stage.
It said: “Government should collect and review data on predictability over the first few years of A* being awarded before it enters use in the [higher education] application process.”
Cambridge promised to keep a close eye on the change to its admissions policy.
Geoff Parks, director of admissions for the Cambridge colleges, explained that they would still be able to make “non-standard” offers where appropriate, and encouraged eligible students to apply through the Cambridge Special Access Scheme.
“The scheme allows circumstances that might impair a student’s examination performance to be taken into account – including, for instance, where an applicant’s school or college has limited success in sending students on to higher education, where the applicant’s family has little or no experience of HE, or, indeed, where [their] education has been significantly disrupted or disadvantaged by health, schooling or personal problems.”