A-level reforms threaten moves to persuade more disadvantaged students to go to university, says UCAS chief

The Independent is reporting the head of UCAS as saying that Michael Gove’s A-level reforms are in danger of wrecking government plans to persuade more disadvantaged students to go to university…

Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of UCAS, told a conference on Thursday they could have a “detrimental” effect on the number of young people from poorer homes studying academic qualifications.

She cited evidence which showed that a growing number of students in state schools were already shunning A-levels and leaning towards studying for a vocational qualifications.

In addition, while independent schools still virtually shunned vocational qualifications – only 1.1 per cent of their pupils taking them the figure for state schools was 37.9 per cent.  There had been a fivefold-growth since 2004.

“We all know about new tougher, more rigorous A-levels and these indeed might be desirable in themselves but I can’t help anticipating that a public understanding that A-levels are getting more difficult is likely to increase this big trend towards vocational qualifications that we’ve seen,” she said.

“Given that greater propensity for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds to do vocational qualifications, I believe this might well have a detrimental effect on some of these positive trends we’ve seen we’ve seen recently in widening participation and fair access (to universities).”

Figures showed the gap between those from poorer homes and the better off going to university had fallen in recent years.  Richer pupils were now 2.8 per cent more likely to go compared with 3.2 per cent two years ago.  However, they were still 7.2 per cent more likely to get into a Russell Group university (the group represents 24 of the most selective higher education institutions in the country).

The figures also showed that – whereas 85 per cent of independent school pupils applying to higher education made  applications to the more selective universities this year – the figure for state schools was 48 per cent. On acceptances, the respective figures were 69.6 per cent and 42.4 per cent.

She put forward two reasons for this: on average non-selective state school pupils were three whole grades lower than independent and grammar schools in their A-level results.

In addition, only 53.2 per cent of state school pupils had studied the so-called “facilitating subjects” accepted by the most selective universities – compared to 72.4 per cent of independent school pupils.

“I think it’s quite clear that higher-tariff institutions want to recruit those with academic qualifications such as A-levels,” Ms Curnock Cook added.

“I think it’s worth thinking about – if you have a done a BTEC in health and social care, you are very likely to progress on to a course in higher education in health and social care whereas if you’ve got three A-levels, you’ve got a choice of probably literally thousands of different courses to choose from.  So it’s also a narrower progression route.”…

More at:  A-level reforms threaten moves to persuade more disadvantaged students to go to university, says UCAS chief

What do you think of these comments from Mary Curnock Cook? Is it necessarily a good thing for students to be studying academic A levels just to go to university? Is the vocational route necessarily second best or might it be a better choice in many cases? Please let us know what you think in the comments or on twitter… 

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  1. LiterateCynic

    SchoolsImprove Getting rid of AS-Levels a really retrograde step. But then who really believes Tories want social mobility? #ImAlrightJack

  2. LiterateCynic

    SchoolsImprove Should do what’s most appropriate based upon skills, aptitude & requirements of career preferences & should be guided..

  3. LiterateCynic

    KeechA13 I’m a conservative. I think the Conservatives are going about it the wrong way, big time! #OldEtoniansRuleOK SchoolsImprove

  4. DominiChoudhury

    SchoolsImprove Main reason for decreasing number of state school students applying to uni is the high cost of fees, not the diffs in grades

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