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Unis warned over exams 'turbulence'

A major shake-up of exams could cause serious "turbulence" to university admissions in three years time, headteachers have predicted, with fears that sixth-formers may be left facing more entrance tests to win a place.

Urgent discussions about the sweeping reforms are needed to ensure that universities and would-be students are clear on the impact of the changes, it was suggested.

A lack of clarity should not result in institutions setting more aptitude tests for candidates to help them decide who to admit, private school leaders warned.

Under the overhaul, new A-level courses in subjects including English, science and history are due to be taught from September next year. Others, such as maths, geography and foreign languages are set to be introduced in 2016.

At the same time, AS-levels are due to be separated from A-levels next year to form a standalone qualification.

It means that in 2017, sixth-formers are likely to be taking exams in a mix of new and old "legacy" A-levels, which private school headteachers are concerned could cause confusion when applying for degree courses.

Speaking at the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) annual meeting in Newport, south Wales, Chris Ramsey, head of The King's School, Chester, said: "In September 2015, so in not very many months time, the first cohort of sixth-formers will start being taught some of the new A-levels in the subjects which are adopting the new specifications then.

"And two years later when they are about to arrive at university, and less than two years later when they are applying to university, universities will be faced with candidates who, in some cases are doing what we would call 'legacy A-levels' so the same A-levels as everybody is doing now, some who are doing new ones, and of those candidates who are doing new A-levels, some of them will simply be taking it at the end of two years and some of them will be in schools where they have opted to do AS-levels at the end of one year."

He said: "We don't think that at the moment that we are hearing enough discussion from universities, we would like to discuss it with them more, and there is a concern that unless universities and schools are discussing this issue pretty urgently, then admissions in 2017 are going to be very, very problematic."

Peter Hamilton, headmaster of Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School in Elstree, Hertfordshire, said it was a "complex scenario" and there was a question about whether all universities are on top of all the changes.

"They really do need to inform themselves and discuss pretty swiftly if we're going to avoid some trouble," he said.

"What we wouldn't want to see is a greater proliferation of universities setting their own entrance tests just because it is such a mish-mash out there."

Mr Hamilton argued: "The guarantee is you can look forward to a couple of years of turbulence as everything beds down and this is not just the independent sector, it's country-wide."

"Because of the potential turbulence out there I don't think anyone would want to see universities, or even more universities, insisting on people sitting their own entrance tests," he later added.

Mr Ramsey said that independent schools would have the resources to prepare their pupils for more university admissions tests, whereas the state sector may not.

It needs to be clear for all students, both private and state educated, what universities want, he added.

Many universities already ask students applying to study courses such as medicine or law to sit aptitude or entrance tests, with some institutions also setting papers for some other subjects.

The HMC represents more than 300 private schools in the UK and abroad.

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