Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Applying post-exam

For many years, SHA has been campaigning for a post qualification application (PQA) system to higher education in which students make no binding applications - and HEIs make no binding decisions - before examination results are known.

The SHA scheme puts forward a two-phase model: a registration phase and, after the results, an application phase.

SHA has long believed this is possible and, to move discussion forward, we published a report in autumn 2004 outlining a possible way forward. The government has used SHA's report as the starting point for a DfES group, charged with creating a scheme to implement PQA.

Sir Alan Wilson, director general for higher education, is leading the DfES group, which will produce a consultation report in summer 2005. It is gratifying to see the major influence of the SHA report on the group's thinking.

However, to maintain unity across the sectors, Sir Alan is not likely to be as bold as SHA's proposal for PQA by 2008 entry.

Instead he appears likely to recommend two steps that build on the strengths of the present admission system.

This would allow the system to take into account other changes currently underway in the education sector that will impact on admissions to higher education - including the reform of vocational qualifications in England springing from the 14-19 white paper.

The introduction of unitised qualifications and the framework for achievement, with its credit based approach to qualifications, will mean that, in future, students may seek to enter higher education with wider ranging and more varied portfolios.

Changes in the way that AS and A level achievement is recorded will allow universities to make finer distinctions between applicants.

Research is to be carried out on the usefulness of a single aptitude test. UCAS applications will all be online and greater use of ICT will continue to speed up the exam marking process, we hope.

The first phase of Sir Alan's proposals, which could be in place for 2008 entry or sooner, may include:

  • reducing the number of choices from six to four, still unranked, with a rolling additional application for those who receive four rejections

  • predicted exam results playing no part in university admissions

  • more informative feedback to students

  • easy access to accurate information about admissions criteria and financial support available, possibly all through the UCAS website

With these changes in place there is real hope that a sector-led partnership will be able to assess the impact of the changes and decide the best way to implement PQA by 2010.

It will be a surprise if the final shape of the PQA system doesn't bear quite a close relationship to SHA's two-phase process. But maybe the biggest surprise will be if, after 25 years, a decision to adopt PQA is finally made at all.

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