School pupils fear universities will ignore their AS-level qualifications in favour of traditional A levels, according to a draft report published this week by the Institute of Education.
The report exposes a second helping of misery for school pupils already reeling from the burden of work imposed on them by the AS-level qualifications, introduced last year as part of the government's Curriculum 2000.
Interviews with 300 year-12 pupils reveal that they are angry with universities, which, they fear, will ignore the AS levels they have worked so hard on and instead offer places based on their A-level grades.
Ann Hodgson, joint director of the institute's Nuffield project on broadening the curriculum, said: "Students are furious that universities may disregard the fourth AS. But it is not surprising that this problem exists when so much confusion surrounds AS levels."
Dr Hodgson said that much of the problem came from universities' failure to spell out how much weight the new AS level will carry.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service is introducing a tariff that allocates points to the full range of qualifications including AS levels. But many universities, principally the older, more research-intensive institutions, said they would continue to base offers primarily on A-level grades.
This lack of clarity, combined with the burdens of the new curriculum, could lead to pupils and schools abandoning the fourth AS level in year 12 to concentrate on three subjects that will be taken to A level. This would undermine the Curriculum 2000 reforms, which were designed to broaden the curriculum, Dr Hodgson said.
Instead, the report recommends reducing the number of modules within AS levels in year 12 from three to two. This, she said, would allow pupils to continue to sit four subjects in year 12, thereby maintaining breadth, but would reduce the burden of work while protecting A-level standards.
She said: "It depends on how we think about standards. If they lie in coverage then, yes, this would lead to a slip in standards. But if you think standards lie in depth, then no. Two modules in year 12 would allow greater depth of understanding."
Last week's review of AS levels, by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, recommended reducing the burden of work imposed by AS levels. On the same day, the Department for Education and Skills announced measures to reduce the number of exams and exempt most pupils from the key-skills tests that were part of Curriculum 2000.
Dr Hodgson said: "We are disappointed that the government focused on the manageability of the curriculum and did not look at matters from the pupils' point of view."
The IoE's draft report is out to consultation. A final report is due later this year.