V-cs get set for crisis fallout

September 27, 2002

THES reporters examine the A-level crisis and look at options being considered.

Vice-chancellors were anxiously awaiting the outcome of the Tomlinson inquiry into A-level marking today to gauge how it will affect this year's new students.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service said it could not judge the scale of any problem until the review was complete.

A spokesman for the OCR exam board said that it had received some 16,000 scripts as candidates for re-marking compared with 12,000 last year. However, 4,000 of the 16,000 had come in after the initial publicity surrounding re-marking.

Headteachers complained that examiners were pressured into fixing A-level grades this year to counter claims that A levels had become too easy.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has already cleared the OCR board of grade fixing, but a second inquiry was ordered by education secretary Estelle Morris. It is chaired by former schools chief inspector Mike Tomlinson and was taking place this week. Mr Tomlinson will move on to consider whether the A level as a whole is working and is expected to produce a second report by November.

The AQA exam board had received slightly more than the usual number of inquiries about results - some 7,500 - before the crisis. Since then, the number has doubled and the AQA has extended the deadline for queries to September 30.

EdExcel had the same number of inquiries about results as last year - some 19,000 - but expected the number to rise.

Geoff Parks, chair elect of Cambridge University's admissions forum, said the university expected the number of students who may have missed their offers as a result of the marking problems to be small.

"I would guess that there may be one or two students per college. None of the colleges has been inundated by candidates who say they will meet their offer once their grades are reviewed."

Mr Parks said Cambridge would do everything possible to accommodate students who met their offers after any re-marking and want to take up their places this year. But he said: "Some courses have constraints on space, like architecture, where taking even one more student would not be physically possible because there is no room for them."

Mr Parks said that it was unlikely that any students would be encouraged to join once term had begun on October 8.

An Oxford University spokesperson said the university would do all it could to take any extra students and would look at them on a case-by-case basis.

Diana Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "We await the results of the Tomlinson inquiry to give a clearer indication of the likely scale of the problem. Universities are obviously very concerned about the potential impact on students and will continue to be as flexible and helpful as possible, within the constraints they face. However, where there are funding implications, universities would expect a matching flexibility from the funding councils and government so as to ensure that they are not adversely affected as a result of this situation."

Many vice-chancellors have guaranteed places next year for students who might otherwise have gone to university this year but for the debacle over A-level grades. Alasdair Smith, vice-chancellor of Sussex University, said:

"We will do our absolute best to deal with students. But the biggest problem is likely to be timing."

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