Calls for pupils to apply for university AFTER A-level results

Calls for pupils to apply for university AFTER A-level results to avoid using ‘inaccurate’ predicted grades – with tougher ‘back-up’ tests to replace mock GCSEs in case exams are axed again

  • Admissions body says use of predicted grades for applications needs to change
  • Ucas says system means students rely on ‘inaccurate’ information which can hinder disadvantaged students whose predicted grades are likely to be lower
  • Meanwhile, education experts urge the Department of education to announce contingency plans which would be used if exams are axed again due to Covid-19

The UK admissions body is calling for an overhaul of the university application process to allow A Level students access to more accurate information before they decide their future.

Ucas, the body behind university admissions in the UK, says the system of using predicted grades for university applications is unreliable and can penalise disadvantaged students whose predicted grades will likely be lower.

The organisation says students should be allowed to apply after they have their exam results with the university academic year beginning in January.

A second option designed by Ucas proposes that the application process continues in its current form but that offers are only made to students once they have their results, according to the Times.

It comes as a think tank has urged the Government to consider holding rigorous ‘backup’ assessments rather than mock exams in case next year’s GCSE and A-level exams are cancelled amid the pandemic.

Teacher-assessed grades should be avoided until there is more evidence about their reliability and their impact on the most disadvantaged students, according to a report by the Education Policy Institute (EPI).

The UK admissions body, Ucas, is calling for a complete overhaul of the university admissions process as it says it relies on students using ‘inaccurate’ predicted grades to decide future

Ucas also pointed to the unreliability of teacher-assessed grades and the impact they can have on a student’s decision for their future.

John Cope, director of strategy and policy at Ucas, told the Times: ‘At the root of the issue is that we ask young people to choose their course more than six months before getting their actual exam results.

‘This creates several problems. If you’re under-predicted, you might aim too ‘low’, or lose the spark of ambition. If too high, course offers risk being unrealistic and out of reach.

‘Life-changing decisions are made on imperfect information. Unsurprisingly, people from poorer and disadvantaged backgrounds are much more likely to come off worse.

‘Supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds is core to Ucas’s charitable mission.’

While Ucas cannot implement a new system on its own, the body will publish details on the two options in the coming months and will hold a full consultation.

Ucas has said it wants the Department for Education, universities and students to shape any reform with any potential changes expected to take a few years.

Meanwhile, other educational bodies are calling for a fairer exam system to ensure students are not penalised for lost school time during the pandemic ahead of their application to universities and colleges. 

Thousands of A-level students had their results downgraded from school estimates by an algorithm, before Ofqual announced a U-turn, allowing them to use teachers’ predictions.

If the exams are able to go ahead next year, the think tank says the DfE should consider using greater optionality in exam papers so pupils have a better chance of answering questions on the content they have covered.

The report adds that some grade inflation should be allowed as the 2021 cohort will have experienced lost learning time and will be competing with the 2020 cohort for jobs, university and college places.

David Laws, executive chairman of the EPI, said: ‘There is a strong case for changes to exam papers, to enable pupils to be assessed on the content that they have actually covered this year.

‘We also have to be prepared for a scenario in which next year’s exams cannot take place.

A think tank has urged the Government to consider more formal assessments as a contingency plan instead of mocks if exams are cancelled this year. Pictured: Students check their A-Level results at Ark Academy, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London

‘To do that, the government should consider using more formal ‘contingency assessments’ in place of the usual mock exams, which students can then use as backup grades.

‘It should avoid falling back on predicted grades again, as questions remain over their reliability.’

He added: ‘Pupils will face huge challenges to their education this year, so we must have a system that is fair. We cannot see a repeat of the turmoil that we had in the summer.’

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: ‘Unfortunately, we can detect no sense of urgency by either the government or the exam regulator to put in place any meaningful measures to make next summer’s exams fairer, or decide a backup plan if things go wrong.

‘So far, they have slightly tweaked the content of the exams and delayed the start date by three weeks to allow for more teaching time, and they continue to talk about a Plan B without actually announcing one.

‘It is important that the public understands how minor these measures are in comparison to the disruption to education which has taken place already because of the Covid pandemic and continues to do so as students have to intermittently self-isolate.’

An Ofqual spokeswoman: ‘We are continuing to discuss contingency options for all likely scenarios with school, college leaders and other stakeholders.

‘We expect to provide advice to the government to enable it to determine and confirm contingency arrangements for 2021 with the sector this month.’

The exams regulator is also considering ways to make the prospect of exams ‘less daunting’ for students who have missed out on teaching and learning.

A DfE spokeswoman said: ‘Exams are the fairest way of judging a student’s performance, which is why they will go ahead next year, underpinned by contingency measures developed in partnership with the sector.

‘Over the coming weeks we will jointly identify any risks to exams and the measures needed to address potential disruption, with fairness for students continuing to be our priority.’

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