SHEFFIELD schools opened their doors earlier than ever before today to issue students with their A-level grades - to give them the best possible chance in the toughest race for university places for years.
Sixth form schools across the city including High Storrs, King Ecgbert, Notre Dame, All Saints and Silverdale agreed for the first time to have staff on duty at 7am, with hundreds of teenagers queuing for the information they needed.
Students failing to get the grades they were hoping for were then able to get on the phone to universities quickly, in a bid to secure a degree course place through ‘clearing’.
Many universities were opening up their hotlines at exactly the same time.
Caroline Siddall, deputy head at All Saints RC High, said everyone expected the clearing process this year to be especially hectic.
“Demand for places is bound to be high due to the change in tuition fees which will come in from 2012,” she said.
University fees are set to almost triple at many universities the year after to £9,000 a year, The University of Sheffield among them.
“Looking at the results most of our students appear to be in a very healthy position but we want to give every opportunity to those who may have just fallen short,” Mrs Siddall added.
Marie Smith, exams manager at Notre Dame RC High, said time was of the essence in the race for places: “We had 200 Year 13s in today and they all had to be up with the lark,” she said.
“And we have had staff on hand to give any young people with problems the expert help they need.”
Mike Pollard, deputy head at Silverdale, said: “All the sixth form schools decided to act together on this as they recognised the situation would be extremely tight.”
And Lesley Bowes, head at King Ecgbert, added: “The early start was all about giving our students the chance to land those really precious places.
“We believe this will be the most competitive year ever and we want them to be ready.”
Sheffield Hallam University said applications for full time degree courses this year had topped 52,000, a 10 per cent increase on 2010.
And at The University of Sheffield more than 34,000 applications had been received, fewer than in 2010, but still showing an upward trend over the last three years.
Early results showed a mixed picture for city high schools.
At King Ecgbert the pass rate at the three top grades - A*, A and B - rose by five per cent to 52 per cent, while at Sheffield Springs Academy’s new sixth form the rate was up from 11 per cent to 29 per cent.
King Edward VII saw an increase, from 50 to 54pc.
But Tapton saw a fall from 63 to 56pc, Notre Dame was down from 57 to 50, and Sheffield College rates slipped from 32pc to 30. At All Saints the pass rate was 40pc.
Silverdale was on course to be the state school with the highest pass rate - 60pc - which is roughly in line with last year.
Longley Park Sixth Form College meanwhile saw its pass rate improve from 33 per cent to 36pc.
Mrs Bowes was especially pleased with improved passes in the key subjects of biology, chemistry and maths.
At Tapton, headteacher David Bowes said 31 students had achieved straight As and A* grades, which he described as ‘remarkable’.
Meanwhile, in the independent sector Sheffield High School had61pc of students achieving A and A* grades.