After a review of this year’s A-level achievements, the A* is being introduced into the University of Oxford’s entrance requirements for 15 degree courses from 2012 entry.
The subjects include Chemistry, Engineering Science and Physics. Mathematics, Mathematics and Philosophy, and Mathematics and Statistics will require two A*s, with the A*s required in Mathematics and Further Mathematics if taken. A full list of courses asking for at least one A* is listed on the University’s website.
The A* was introduced in 2010, after several universities claimed that it was becoming difficult to distinguish between several candidates receiving the top grade. 8% of A-level entries received the A* mark in its first year.
Oxford University initially resisted including the A* in their requirements. In a note sent out when Oxford announced its change in policy, the University stated that, ‘Oxford’s policy on the A* grade was to wait two years as teachers indicated that they were uncertain about predicting who would get the new grade.
‘It is now clear that many students in the sciences who take A levels get the A* grade, and that it would be reasonable to ask for A* in many science and math courses. In addition, by 2012 Oxford believes teachers will have two years of running the syllabus and will be familiar with content and student performance, and therefore be able to predict those getting the A* with more confidence.’
Many other universities across the country, including Cambridge, University College London, and Imperial are already asking for the A* for some courses. Now Nottingham and York universities are also introducing the A* grade for the first time.
A-Level results from August 2011 indicated that the number of A*s achieved by students at private schools was 50% higher than for state grammar schools. The University rejected claims that the decision to postpone introducing the A* was driven by state / independent student numbers.
Reacting to the story, Nathan Akehurst, Lincoln student and a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party, referred to the fact that of 100 offer-holders from ‘flagged’, i.e. disadvantaged, backgrounds, 50 did not meet their grades.
He commented, ‘The A* introduction is regressive, and also destroys the potential applications of those who may progress throughout Year 13. Oxford is meant to level the playing field through innovative aptitude tests and interviews; this is a step in the wrong direction in the context of a vastly and increasingly unequal education system that will only compound the already grim situation for UK universities.’
Basil Vincent, a second year Historian and Keble JCR President, added ‘given the amount of aptitude tests that Oxford set for admissions, I don’t see how it’s necessary. What the admissions department should be focusing on is the Fonding and Bridging Provision that OUSU are highlighting at the moment’.
However, Oxford University pointed out that ‘A-level grades are far from the only selection criteria for Oxford. Academic ability and potential are assessed through a range of measures: details provided through the UCAS application, such as attained grades (including GCSEs), the personal statement, predicted grades and academic reference, then also aptitude tests for around 85% of applicants and written work in some subjects. Where candidates are shortlisted, their performance at interview is also taken into account.’