A* grades admissible for Cambridge entry

Felicity Davies – News Reporter 15 October 2009

Controversy has been sparked this week with the announcement that leading universities such as Cambridge, Imperial and UCL will be including an A* in their standard offers for 2010. The announcement comes just one week before the deadline for prospective Oxbridge applications.

In the future, the standard requirement for entry to Cambridge will consist of two As at A-level, and one A*. In order to be awarded an A* pupils must gain an average of at least 80% in their AS level modules and 90% in all A-level modules. Only by gaining an average of 90% at A2 can students gain an A*, meaning the new grade increases the importance of the second year, especially in regard to University entry.

The National Council for Educational Excellence, a committee established by the Prime Minister to find ways to improve educational institutions, have advised that “there is no evidence yet upon which to assess whether the new A* grade can be predicted with accuracy.” They suggest waiting until a later date before using the A* in offers for higher education, as they are finding it difficult to gauge the success teachers will have in predicting A* students.

In line with this advice, Oxford have opted not to include A*s in their standard offers until at least 2012. Oxford admissions tutors have been told to ignore A* predictions, leaving many secondary school teachers confused about whether they should be predicting As or A*s for their most able students.

The situation has also caused further problems, as the introduction of the new grade will coincide with a new A-level syllabus, which started being taught in September of this year.

Joe Farish, Access Officer for the Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU), told The Cambridge Student (TCS) that “we are disappointed that the university chose to ignore our concerns that they should wait and see how the new grade is received.

“There are also a lot of teachers from both state and private schools who still do not fully understand how the grade is awarded, and we fear this may contribute to deterring prospective applicants from applying to Cambridge.”

Concerns have also been raised that the new grade will benefit students from independent sector, as these schools often invest more in getting their students into the Russell Group universities. This has led to fears that this may reduce the amount of successful applications to leading universities from students educated at state schools.

However, Geoff Parks, Director of Admissions for Cambridge University, assured TCS that “we anticipate that this will enable those of real ability to differentiate themselves from those who can be drilled to answer predictable questions but struggle when it is less obvious what needs to be done. In my experience plenty of high achieving students at independent schools fall into the latter category.”

Felicity Davies – News Reporter