Would ditching predicted A-level grades really benefit poorer students?

Would ditching predicted A-level grades really benefit poorer students?

As students anxiously await their A-level results to find out if they have got into their first choice university, Labour has launched plans to scrap university offers based on predicted grades.

The party argues that a post-qualification admissions (PQA) system is needed in the UK as the current process, which uses predicted grades to award university places, unfairly penalises disadvantaged students and those from minority backgrounds.

But would an overhaul of the university application process actually benefit poorer students?

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Social mobility charity Sutton Trust says bright pupils from poorer backgrounds are more likely to have their future A-level grades underpredicted by teachers than their better-off peers.

These applicants who were underrated are more likely to apply to a university for which they are overqualified, rather than one of the leading universities, which may affect their future careers.

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A sharp decline in students taking AS levels – following the government’s decision to make them no longer count towards A-levels – has led to a greater emphasis on predicted grades. Before the reforms, universities could use actual results when considering applications.

It has been suggested that parents who are more familiar with the university application system could be placing more pressure on teachers to give their children higher predicted grades to secure offers from top universities, leaving pupil from poorer backgrounds at a further disadvantage.

The surge in the proportion of university applicants being offered a place on a degree regardless of their exam grades – known as unconditional offers – could also disadvantage students as they could become demotivated in their final year of schooling and find the step up to university more difficult.

However, radically changing the exam timetable could also leave poorer students in the dark and at a disadvantage, the head of the admissions service argues.  

A consultation run by Ucas in 2012 found that an introduction of PQA would significantly disadvantage underrepresented and disabled students unless calendars were changed.

Ucas chief, Clare Marchant, believes poorer pupils lacking parental support would have to make quick decisions about degree courses at a time when schools are closed and teachers are absent.  

She also argues that universities could struggle to put in place support services for those who are first in the family to enter higher education, as well as disabled students, in time for start of term.

And now that a record number of students are taking up places on degrees through clearing, Ms Marchant argues that there is already a “genuine post-qualifications admissions route” in place.

The debate between Ucas and leading groups in the sector rages on. But we will have to wait and see whether the Department for Education and Universities UK decide to finally make a change.  

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