Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Miliband: We Can't Stop New Entrance Tests for University; MINISTER HITS BACK AT CRITICS WHO SAY EXAMS ARE TOO EASY

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Miliband: We Can't Stop New Entrance Tests for University; MINISTER HITS BACK AT CRITICS WHO SAY EXAMS ARE TOO EASY

Article excerpt

Byline: ANNE MCELVOY

THE GOVERNMENT today admitted it is powerless to stop the top universities bringing in a new wave of extra tests for A-level candidates aiming for the most popular degree courses.

Universities are finding it increasingly difficult to identify the brightest applicants because so many teenagers leave school with straight As.

In the wake of the arguments over the rising A-level pass rate, Cambridge and Oxford have indicated they will set separate aptitude tests across a wide range of subjects.

Today in an interview with the Evening Standard, Schools Minister David Miliband sought to allay fears the number of A grades is devaluing the exam, and insisted he would ensure the system "let the bright kids shine".

But he said that any refinement of the top grade would not be at the expense of the candidates - almost a quarter this year - who achieve A grades.

Asked whether he agreed with the head of the best-performing school in the South-East who said it was "inevitable" that top universities will set tests to discriminate between applicants, Mr Miliband was lukewarm.

"I can't stop them doing it," he said.

"I think it is important the university system sees itself as a whole.

I want a system that commands the confidence of all sections of the education world. Do I want different institutions doing their own thing? That would be a mark of lack of confidence and that would not be good."

He accepted there were " concerns" about A-levels, but denied that the record results meant it should be made harder to achieve the top grade.

"The answer to rising numbers of A grades is not to shift the goalposts so more people are downgraded, but instead to create new opportunities for the most able young people to distinguish themselves. Like every parent and teacher, I want to see our most gifted children shine."

He said claims that pupils were "playing the system", by choosing easier subjects in which to gain better grades, were exaggerated. "The level of challenge is the same across all subjects at A-level," he said.

Asked if this meant an A grade in media studies signified the same standard as one in physics, he said: "Yes it does. …

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