A government-backed report has suggested that private school students will be more likely to secure an Oxford place after reforms to the A-level system are introduced in 2010.The report, conducted by the 1994 group that represents 19 leading universities, stated, “It remains to be seen how large a proportion of candidates achieving A* grades are from independent schools.If, as seems likely, this is a large proportion, a question will arise as to whether the introduction of the A* grade has had the effect of assisting research-intensive universities in widening access of undergraduates from a range of backgrounds.” The reforms will bring in A* grades at A-level for the brightest students as well as diplomas that combine vocational and academic study.There is some concern, however, that these changes will increase the gap between maintained and independent pupils, after four out of ten admissions tutors at the 1994 Group universities expressed reservations about accepting the diplomas over A-levels. Paul Marshall, Executive Director of the 1994 Group, said, “The new A* grade will clearly downgrade the currency of those who, from 2010, gain only three grade As.No student can be sure of a place at Oxford or Cambridge but the report suggests that where two or three A*s are held by applicants, this will make Oxbridge admission more likely than for those without such grades.”Many leading universities complain that due to the large number of students achieving straight A grades at A-level, it has become difficult to differentiate among talented applicants.As a result, the government will introduce the A* grade from 2010 for students with a mark of at least 90% in their examinations, which are set to include tougher essay-style questions.“If there is a warning in the report on the potential impact of the A*, it is there to ensure that corrective or compensatory action is taken before it is too late.”James Lamming, OUSU’s Access and Academic Affairs Officer, defended the introduction of the A* grade. He said, “When A grades are awarded to 25% of A-Level entries, the qualifications become much less useful at distinguishing the most talented students. Adding an A* grade seems a possible method of restoring this role.”Lamming added, “I would not want to speculate about their effect on access. However, it is important to remember that A-level grades are only one part of the admissions process.”by Rob Pomfret