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Only best pupils will get places at top Camden sixth form as tough new A-level criteria introduced

07:00 21 August 2014

Headteacher Sam White says

Headteacher Sam White says 'gold standard' A-levels may not be the best path for all pupils. Picture: Nigel Sutton

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

This year’s “toughest ever” A-level exams have forced Camden’s largest sixth form to tighten entry requirements and only accept the brightest students in the wake of a controversial government shake-up.

Prospective pupils at La Swap sixth form consortium, made up of four Camden state secondaries, will be pushed to achieve mostly B grades as a minimum requirement at GCSE in order to gain a place to study A-levels from 2015.

Students currently need C grades at GCSE to sit three A-levels and a mixture of B and C grades to take four.

William Ellis School headteacher Sam White said the decision was made in the face of “increasingly challenging” A-levels – a perceived result of government A-level reforms.

The headteacher, who leads the sixth form consortium alongside the heads of Parliament Hill, Acland Burghley and La Sainte Union schools, said: “We will require stiffer entry requirements. These A-levels are tougher than they have ever been.

“There’s no point getting pupils onto courses if they are going to fail because they won’t get onto the next step.”

Stricter entry requirements are already in force for September’s A-level cohort.

In previous years, a student could keep their sixth form place if they failed to get a C grade in English language or maths but from September onwards pupils will only be accepted if they meet this minimum requirement.

From next year the requirements will become tougher still and students will need to get mostly B grades at GCSE.

Mr White has made clear that pupils who achieve A and B grades will be best placed to study A-levels.

He added that the changes are a response to reforms, which will see students sit all exams at the end of a two-year course from 2015.

The consortium is to offer a wider range of alternative BTEC qualifications to plug any gap in education opportunities for young people.

“A-levels are seen as the gold standard, so pupils’ ambition may not match up with the courses they want to do, even if they are not the best courses for them,” said Mr White.

“That’s why we have to work with young people and their parents to say that it is important to be aspirational and to aim high, but it’s also important they take the right next step.”

He revealed the news on A-level results day last Thursday after the consortium reported a dip in A-level grades in line with a national decline – the first for 32 years.

The fall is thought to be a result of this year’s scrapping of January exams, which previously allowed students to re-sit papers in June before getting final results in August.

LaSwap sixth form had a four per cent fall in A* to C grades compared to last year, from 75.8 per cent to 71 per cent – although Camden as a borough defied the national decline.

At Camden’s state schools 79 per cent of A-level entries gained A* to C grades, compared with 76.5 per cent nationally.

Highgate School headteacher Adam Pettitt agreed with Mr White’s concerns that many students will not be able to cope with tougher A-levels.

He said: “The national system is supposed to facilitate all 18-year-olds, but are these pupils getting lost in the system because rigorous measures are being re-introduced? I don’t think that question is being answered.”

* For more A-level coverage see pages 6-7 and our special nine-page supplement.

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