Education & Family

Pupils are 'mis-sold' soft A-levels, says MP

Image caption Pupils from independent schools and grammars were twice as likely to take three "facilitating" A-levels

Pupils at comprehensives in England are losing out on elite university places after being "mis-sold" softer A-level subjects like film studies, an MP says.

Elizabeth Truss says they are being encouraged to study subjects that are not acceptable to top universities but which boost school results.

Ms Truss says pupils' chances of going to top universities were "cut off" before they had filled in applications.

Qualifications watchdog Ofqual insists all its A-levels are rigorous.

The Conservative MP for South West Norfolk obtained the data from the Department for Education through a parliamentary question.

Best subjects

Her research looked at the proportion of pupils in comprehensive, grammar and private schools taking subjects that appear on the Russell Group's list of "facilitating" A-levels.

The Russell Group represents the UK's most prestigious universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, and the list gives students advice on the best subjects to take to get onto degree courses at these institutions.

Image caption Ms Truss says many students are being sold short by taking "softer" A-level courses

Ms Truss's findings show that 15% of comprehensive school pupils and 11% of sixth-form college pupils were entered for at least three "facilitating" A-levels in 2010, compared with 32% at grammar schools and 31% at independent schools.

Almost twice as many private and grammar school pupils (38% and 37% respectively) took maths A-level compared with their comprehensive school and sixth-form college peers (both 21%).

Just 7% of comprehensive school pupils and 6% of sixth-form college pupils took a modern foreign-language A-level compared with 13% of those at grammar school and 19% at private school.

And 9% of comprehensive pupils and 7% of sixth-form college pupils took physics A-level compared with 17% each at private and grammar schools.

Ms Truss said: "Students are being mis-sold low-quality subjects that are not accepted at top universities to boost school and local authorities' results.

"It is time Ofqual put an end to the myth that mathematics and media studies are 'equivalent'."

A-level Baccalaureate

Ms Truss is calling for the introduction of an A-level Baccalaureate - similar to the English Bac for GCSEs, which grades schools as to what percentage of pupils get good grades in maths, English, two sciences, a language and either geography and history.

The A-level Bac should include 'rigorous' subjects that would include at least AS-levels in maths and a language or humanities subject, Ms Truss believes.

A spokesman for Ofqual said: "Ofqual has previously called on all those who use qualifications to be more transparent about what is needed to access employment and further study opportunities.

"We therefore welcomed the Russell Group's publication of its guidance regarding post-16 subject choices earlier this year.

"Ofqual makes sure that A-levels in all subjects are challenging and rigorous qualifications that assess the relevant knowledge required for that specific subject."

In a speech to the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference last week, Schools Minister Nick Gibb also raised concerns about the "yawning attainment gap" between different groups of young people.

"As a nation, we can't carry on relying on the 7% of young people the independent sector educates, to provide such a high proportion of future generations of scientists, engineers, medics or linguists.

"The key to both social mobility and a mobile economy is to realise the potential, ability and talent of young people from all backgrounds."

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