Under the current system, sixth trainers in England apply to university in January using the scores predicted by their teachers, before moving on to level A in late spring and accepting university offers in June. Exam results are released in August, which means that those who have missed their required marks face a frantic race to join the cleanup and find another course. The teachers’ grade predictions are notoriously inaccurate, which adds to the confusion for students and admissions staff.
Under the proposed change, school leavers and other applicants would only make final university applications after their exam results, which means they would have a clear understanding of the courses for which they are qualified.
The ministers, including Williamson, are convinced that the post-results candidacies would benefit disadvantaged young people, especially students from Black and Minority Ethnic Groups (BAME).
The ratings provided are often unreliable. Research from the Sutton Trust has shown that disadvantaged students tend to receive lower Grade A grades.
Ministers also want to give government more direct oversight of the path to higher education, removing what they see as a bureaucratic tangle of planned grades and conditional and unconditional offers that has grown around of the current system.
He intervenes when the secretary of affairs, Alok Sharma, must announce additional financial support to universities, in particular 200 million pounds sterling to finance the research posts likely to suffer from cuts resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, and loans to cover losses related to lower tuition fees for international students. Additional support, with additional research and development funding planned for next year, is expected to be announced shortly.Williamson and DfE are preparing to publish new skills, continuing education and learning proposals in the coming weeks, culminating in a white paper to rebalance post-18 education away from universities and higher education and towards higher education, which is given higher priority by the ministry and Downing Street.
For the higher education sector, a strategy document is being prepared to include the push towards post-qualification admissions and other proposals to improve the prospects of disadvantaged applicants.
A number of vice-chancellors are also concerned that the government may want to restrict the number of students taking social studies courses, particularly those with a history of low earnings from higher education.
A document discussed within the DfE this month, seen by the Guardian, describes a number of models for ministers and policy makers. All options assume post-qualification admissions as a starting point, suggesting that Williamson and others are determined to effect the change that the industry has resisted for many years.
- The results of the exams were released in August, as is currently the case, but with academic and college terms starting in January, allowing five months to process applications.
- Move exam results to July and the start of the university term to mid-October, allowing students to apply for 12 weeks.
An unchanged calendar, with only a five-week window for the application process to take place between the exam results in August and the start of the academic term in September, as now.
University applications are submitted before reception of level A results, but offers of places for students are not published before the publication of results, without modification of current timetables.
The model for prequalification and post-result offers is also the closest to that which could be proposed by the Universities UK group, which is also holding its own consultation. A spokesman for the DfE said: “We are not commenting on the leaks and will not be attracted to speculation. ”
Those analyzing the plans have suggested that moving the start of the academic term to January would promote fairness and transparency as well as “strong talk about social mobility”. The long gap after the end of the exams would allow universities to organize courses to prepare students for higher education, as well as opportunities for candidates to participate in the open days and explore their options.
Supporters of the move to early January said it would have less “negative impact” on students’ mental health, although it would also leave many to be wiped out in summer and fall, “especially for underprivileged students.” who will likely need to take paid work during this time. ”
A term start in January would also have an impact on applications from international students and reduce long summer vacations for students. ” [Higher education] claimants are unlikely to voluntarily accept this due to loss of earnings and disruption of the academic year, “noted a briefing paper, although he suggested that the process would be easier to both for admissions to Ucas and administrators of the student loan company.
Among other options, proposing a 12-week application window between July and October would increase the pressure on schools, exam boards and Ofqual, with less time to teach level A and other qualifications and less long to mark exams, “and we don’t know at this point if that would be feasible,” noted the analysis.
The DfE’s push for post-qualification admissions is the latest in a long series of attempts dating back to 2006. Each time, the status quo has remained intact after opposition from universities and principals. Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief advisor, is said to have opposed the proposals during his tenure as advisor to Michael Gove at DfE.
Williamson’s efforts to push reforms forward are part of the government’s frustration with the Office for Students (OfS), England’s higher education regulator. In February, the OfS launched its own consultation on the admissions process, but the consultation has since been suspended due to the coronavirus epidemic, with no fixed deadline, leaving the ministers little work.
Earlier this week, Sir Michael Barber, Executive Chairman of the OfS, announced his retirement when his term expires next year. Barber wanted to be reappointed for another four-year term, but resigned after dissatisfaction with the DfE over the performance of the OfS became apparent.
The new post-18 education policy proposals came as Williamson wanted to go beyond the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, with measures to improve the status and attractiveness of continuing education, which he sees as a more cost-effective way to respond to the skills shortage in the UK labor market. .