Broader entry routes allow breathing space
Published 30/04/2015 | 02:30
Imagine the CAO process as a passenger gate at an airport; the wider it is, the greater the potential for big numbers to get through, leaving seat selection to later.
Replace that with a series of narrow entrances, accommodating the same numbers overall, but people feel they have a better chance of being top of a queue, and watch the race. Then, on the plane, they end up sitting beside someone who couldn't, or wouldn't, sprint as fast.
The proliferation of CAO courses, about 1,400 at last count, was like opening up a series of narrow gates. Colleges rolled out niche offerings, with small numbers of places, to lure the most motivated. Like the plane, once inside, the front-runners sit in the same lectures as everyone else.
A move to broader entry routes, such as common first-year science, is good for students. It allows breathing space about specialisation and discourages the frantic pursuit of points fuelled by a marking system where a student is never more than 2.5pc away from the next grade - up or down. So, they furiously chase every mark.
Add the current CAO scale, where students' points tot up in multiples of five, to the equation. If the college gates open wider, there will be a lot of bunching on the same points, running the risk of more eligible applicants being randomly excluded.
A progressive difference in points between bands reduces the probability of students achieving the same score, while also giving the edge to excellence.