Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 09 Apr 2009

My daughter’s school is not preparing students for the new A* level grade at A level. What should she do?

Hillary's Advice

Of course it is bad if your daughter’s A level teachers have not explained about the new A* grade, and how it will be used to help select students for university. In fact it is almost unbelievable.

But if your daughter is setting her sights on Oxbridge, as you say, surely she is smart enough to realise that it, in the absence of help from her school, she must do her own research on this, and work out what it means for her performance? Sitting back and complaining about her teachers, while not lifting a finger to help herself, would seem a pretty good recipe for failure.

The A* grade is being introduced to help universities distinguish the very brightest students among the many who now get As at A level. At first the universities weren’t keen as trials seemed to show it would inevitably favour candidates from private schools. But now Cambridge, Imperial College London and University College London have all said they’ll be looking for A* applicants for some courses from 2010 when the new grade is brought in – and that’s in spite of official advice that the new grade should be allowed to settle down for a few years before being used to select candidates. There is also evidence that some Cambridge applicants are already being expected to get at least 90 per cent in their final A2 exams for at least one subject – an A* grade level of achievement.

So, basically, what it means for your daughter is that she needs to work her socks off if she wants to have any chance of going to Oxbridge. But surely that’s what she is already doing?