A report from the Assessment and Qualification Alliances is encouraging universities in Britain to take another look at students from poorly-performing schools. Dr. Neil Stringer, who authored the report, said that research shows no performance difference at university levels between those who took and passed their A-levels at the best schools, and those who took the test at schools lower down on the league tables.
As an example, Stringer cited the policy of the University of London St. George' medical school which has not started offering admission to students with A-level scores of BBC if they scored 60% better than the average student at their previous school.
Students admitted via the St. George's program – called the adjusted-criteria scheme – perform just as well on their studies as their peers who were admitted with higher scores.
This strongly suggests that students admitted through the adjusted-criteria scheme learned enough at A-level and are able enough learners to compete successfully with students who achieved higher A-level grades under more favourable circumstances."
Stringer plans to have the paper read at party conferences so that politicians can start thinking how to best serve students who show academic potentials at lower-tier schools.
Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations, however, doesn't agree with AQA's conclusions or proposals. He argues that building in such a "step up" into the universities' admissions policies will diminish the value of A-levels as an objective measuring tool.
"Furthermore, there are so many ways in which you could rank students that arbitrarily picking out one method alone could not possibly deal with the challenge."
Toby Young, writing in The Telegraph, is also negative on the idea. He believes that instead of expanding opportunities for poorer kids, it will actually make social mobility more difficult in the long run, since the program would favor middle- and upper-class students. He argues that the best way to help level the gap between private and public school kids is not to offer some of them a handicap, but instead to increase the difficulty of the exams themselves.