Britain’s biggest exam board AQA has this week announced plans to change the way they award qualifications, by ranking pupils according to the schools they attended.
Under the new proposals students would be given points for their exam results as well as a score related to their school.
The ideas are contained in a research paper drawn up by Dr Neil Stringer, senior research associate at the AQA centre for education research and policy.
The paper claims that this will help universities identify students with potential who have been held back by their educational circumstances, with the assumption that good A level grades are harder to achieve at a failing comprehensive than a top private school.
The overhaul would see pupils receive one exam score based on their best three A-Level grades, and then a ranking, which awards or deducts ‘bonus points’, according to school. This could then be given to universities individually, or centrally coordinated by UCAS.
The report stresses that the aim is not to distort the achievements of students, giving far more weight to exam results than the school attended.
The proposals have nonetheless been contentious. Critics insist that they are fail to take into account other factors, and are discriminatory towards private school pupils.
The report has indeed caused a stir in many independent schools. Dr Hands, headmaster of Magdalen College School in Oxford noted, “It is extraordinary. It takes no account of home background or the amount of tutoring a pupil could have.”
Sarah Edwards, a second year Balliol PPEist, commented, “Marks aren’t just an indication of intelligence and work ethic… Say if someone from a poor school had their B grade inflated to an A. It may well be the case that at a better school, they would have gotten an A, but that doesn’t change the fact that they lacked whatever it is which would have gotten them an A. If they then start at university…they may get left behind, instead of getting the extra support they need.”
Students Ashley Cooke and Hannah Robertson saw the report as condescending, noting that “it seems a patronising measure which devalues the efforts of state school students.”
One undergraduate said that discrepancies in educational provision are an “important issue but this is not that way to tackle it, the government need to put more money into failing state schools.”
Despite only 7% of students being privately educated, they make up over 45% of students at Oxford. Such statistics have created increasing concern that state school pupils are getting left behind when it comes to gaining places at top universities.
Those in favour of the proposals believe such measures will broaden access to higher education and are a way to help disadvantaged students.
Second year historian Ryan Kahn argued, “if the specifics could be worked out, these measures would be a good way to iron out the obvious inequalities in the educational system.”
The University press office refused to comment at this time, as the proposals are not understood to be finalised at this stage, but the Admissions department noted that use of contextual data already plays a part in the admissions process and so any new measures were unlikely to have a major impact.