Some six-in-10 academics are providing “additional support classes” for first year undergraduates because students are so poorly prepared for the demands of higher education, it was revealed. In most cases, universities stage basic lessons in writing skills – particularly for students taking degrees in English – amid complaints that too many school-leavers struggle to structure an essay, spell properly or use correct grammar. Many institutions also told how they provided additional tuition in independent study skills and basic numeracy. The disclosure – in a study by the Cambridge Assessment exam board – follows claims from teachers on Monday that schools are being forced to “teach to the test” to hit Government targets at the expense of providing a balanced education. One academic told researchers that most students experienced a major “culture shock” between A-levels and higher education, adding: “We try our best to help them make the transition from being spoon-fed to being able to design a spoon and then feed themselves.” The study – being presented at a higher education conference in Birmingham on Tuesday – was based on an 18-month research programme by Cambridge Assessment, including a survey of 633 academics. In all, around 50 per cent of lecturers believed first year students were not prepared for the demands of higher education, rising to almost six-in-10 among biology professors. In most cases, academics said students struggled to write essays, use correct spelling, punctuation and grammar, study by themselves, carry out independent research and build arguments. Some six-in-10 said they had been forced to provide tuition in basic skills to enable new undergraduates to catch up. Crash courses were most often provided in writing skills, particularly for students taking degrees in English. Other academics provided tuition in “independent learning”, numeracy skills and basic subject-specific booster lessons. As part of the study, lecturers from a range of universities were also asked to list the key weaknesses in A-levels, with too much “teaching to the test” being cited as the main failing. Cambridge Assessment said academics wanted A-levels to be overhauled to include more advanced content for bright students, cover subjects in more depth, include more extensive reading lists and encourage critical thinking, independent study and experimentation. They also called for a crackdown on the number of resits. Mark Dawe, chief executive of OCR, a wing of Cambridge Assessment, said: “Over the past two decades, the design and content of qualifications has increasingly become the domain of government-funded bodies. “One effect of this has been to disenfranchise university lecturers, tutors, and admissions staff.” The comments come after teachers admitted they were increasingly being forced to provide advanced coaching to help pupils pass exams. Research by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers revealed almost three-quarters of staff felt under more pressure to ensure pupils hit tough Government targets, suggesting they had reduced the amount of curriculum content and provided more after-school exam practice. Last week, Andrew Hall, the head of the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance exam board, called for curbs on the number of exam resits each student should take to provide more teaching time.