Making the grade

July 2, 1999

How does an A-level A grade compare with an E grade? This question is exercising minds following the launch last month of a consultation on A-level points scores by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

"At present the A-level points scores make an A grade worth five times more than an E, even though you may need as much as 44 per cent of the marks to get an E and as little as 70 per cent to get an A. A ratio of two to one or three to one would seem more equitable," said Tony Higgins, chief executive of UCAS.

UCAS has consulted bodies including the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, the Standing Conference of Principals and the Association of Colleges, receiving "a positive response", said Mr Higgins.

But admissions tutors contacted by The THES were cautious of the proposals, opposing any measure that could diminish ways of discriminating between student achievements.

At present, an A grade is worth 10 points. If UCAS increased the number of points to 120, as planned, then other qualifications could be slotted into the tariff. Eventually the same points scheme could be used for many qualifications.

"More and more people are applying to higher education with qualifications other than A-levels. To enable us to report more fully the levels of achievement on entry, we need a system to allow us to give points scores to (other) courses," said Mr Higgins. "Once a new tariff is in place, we can work to include Scottish highers and advanced highers, the international baccalaureate and possibly other qualifications within the points-score framework. We need a new tariff to recognise that diversity," he added.

Points could be allocated for general non-vocational qualifications, key skills and access to higher education courses. A new tariff could also reflect the shift towards modular A levels by allowing points for each unit.

Mr Higgins added that the new points score would not change the value of A-level grades nor would it change the way A levels are marked. Entry standards for university would remain the same.

"(In the past 30 years) there has been an explosion in the number of people going on to higher education, and many of them now have very different types of qualification and achievement. We need a new tariff to recognise that diversity. A new tariff would not only maintain standards, it would start to ensure that applicants, higher education institutions and employers alike knew the relative values of each qualification on offer," he said.

UCAS aims to have agreed the tariff by its next board meeting in September. Students entering university in September 2002 would be the first to be judged by the new tariff system.

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