A-levels: universities facing places jostle each other after exams U-turn

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Universities are bracing for an increase in student appeals after ministers from England, Northern Ireland and Wales said A-level grades could now be based on teacher assessments.

Students who were kicked out of universities last week on the basis of scores downgraded by an algorithm may now be able to reconsider their choices.

But universities warn there is a limit to what they can do.

Monday’s U-turn followed an outcry from students, teachers and some Conservative MPs.

About 40% of A-level results were downgraded by the exams regulator Ofqual, which used a formula based on the schools’ past grades.

Students responded by staging protests across the UK, calling the grading system unfair, classy and a threat to their future.

On Monday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Ofqual President Roger Taylor both apologized for the “distress” caused.

Mr Williamson said No 10 worked with the watchdog to design ‘the fairest model possible’ after exams had to be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it had become clear that the The process had resulted in “greater inconsistencies” than could be addressed. through an appeal process.


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Media captionGavin Williamson: “Incredibly sorry for all those students who went through this”

The algorithm aimed to moderate the grading process to prevent teachers from awarding students what the exam watchdog described as “implausibly high” grades.

But he was criticized for his perceived injustice and, in particular, for the way he appeared to penalize bright children in underprivileged schools.

The government’s U-turn means teacher ratings will also be used for GCSE results, which are due to be released on Thursday.

These center assessment scores, as the government calls them, were decided by schools after taking into account available evidence, including non-exam assessments and homework, and trying to make “fair judgment.” and objective ”.

It’s still unclear what the descent will mean for students taking specialist vocational qualifications, called BTecs. Mr Williamson said he hoped they would also be subject to teacher-assessed grades, adding that the government was working with “issuing authorities” to make sure this happens.

Alistair Jarvis, Managing Director of Universities UK which represents the Vice Chancellors, called for “urgent clarification” following the policy change and for the government to “step up” by supporting universities in the challenges it has created.

He warned that if 70% of students were placed in their first-choice institution, those who were not should “think carefully about their next steps” and seek advice from their preferred institutions.

Mr Jarvis said the change would mean there would be more students with grades matching their top university’s offer.

“This will pose challenges at this late stage of the admissions process – capacity, staff, placements and facilities – especially with the social distancing measures in place,” he said.

Gavin Williamson said the extent of the problems with England’s Tier A results only became clear over the weekend.

But some Tory MPs are frustrated that there have been months to prepare for this and that the issues were not spotted sooner, even after the issues in Scotland became clear a fortnight ago.

However, questions are not just being put to the government – some MPs believe Ofqual could have done more to avoid this crisis. Mr Williamson himself has said he has repeatedly asked for assurances and been told the system is fair.

There is also the fact that there have been U-turns across the UK now, including from the Labor led government in Wales and the SNP in Scotland.

But education has faced problems during this pandemic, including the government’s failure to get all children back to England into the classroom before the summer break.

Mr Williamson remains in his post for now, but he faces another important test almost immediately – ensuring the government keeps its promise this time to open English schools next month.

Mr Williamson announced Monday that a 5% cap on the number of additional students a university can take this year has been lifted.

Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, which represents 24 leading universities, said support would be needed to help with the expected increase in student numbers.

“There are limits to what the academic sector can do on its own to deal with this uncertainty without depleting resources to the point of undermining the experience for all, let alone ensuring the safety of students and staff as we let’s take the necessary steps to fight. the Covid-19 pandemic, ”he said.

Some students are now anxiously waiting to see if they will be accepted into their classes now that their teacher-assessed grades have been restored.

Zainab Ali, 18, from London, said it had been a horrific and confusing experience – having initially been rejected from her first choice at Queen Mary University in London. “I felt like I was really disappointed. It was really, really stressful, ”she said.

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Emily King

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Emily King doesn’t know if she’ll be able to attend Lincoln University this year


And Emily King, from Whittlesey in Cambridgeshire, said being demoted from a C to a U in her A-level biology had “really shaken her confidence” and meant she was rejected by the University of Lincoln.

It is not clear whether there is a guarantee that admissions decisions can be reviewed if a course is already full, and some universities, including Durham, Sheffield, Bristol and Liverpool, had stopped offering places by compensation Until monday.

The Universities and Colleges (Ucas) admissions service said 193,420 18-year-old applicants across the UK had been placed at their first-choice university, which is higher than at the same time last year .

A spokesperson for Ucas said students who have not entered their first-choice institution should seek advice from their parents or teachers before contacting the university.

The government has said that students who accept offers based on their downgraded results may be free if another offer is reinstated based on their updated grades.

De Montfort University vice-chancellor Professor Katie Normington told BBC Newsnight universities have a lot of work to do and it is not yet clear how they will receive the new results or deal with them. .

She said: “I think all of us, as universities, will see how we treat these students fairly and we will try to do so. It’s obviously a lot of work for us, but there are plenty of opportunities. there for students right now. ”

‘Too slow to act’

Sam Freedman, who was a senior policy adviser at the Department of Education between 2010 and 2013, said he was surprised Mr Williamson had not stepped down because of A-level results management and said he was “begging the belief” that the secretary of state had said he only knew about the weekend’s problems.

“I can’t think of many other education secretaries who haven’t already resigned,” he said.

Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green wrote to Mr Williamson with 15 questions, including asking when students will receive their new grades and whether there will be a free appeal process.

She said: “The delay and accompanying chaos means students, families and education providers do not have answers to critical questions. “

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