Education Quandary

'Our daughter did badly in some of her AS coursework due to poor teaching, and must redo the work next year. This may look bad on her Ucas form. Should her college explain to universities? What can we do?'
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If the situation is as described, and students fell down badly because of poor teaching and guidance, then the college has a moral duty to make this plain to universities. It would, says the Association of Colleges, be standard procedure, "and we'd be very surprised indeed if a college didn't take action under such circumstances".

In fact, human errors and extenuating circumstances come up all the time in the vast system that grinds schoolchildren through from school to higher education, and many university departments hear special pleadings from one or two candidates a year. These might be to do with an institutional problem, as alleged in this case, or they might be something personal. A school could write about a candidate's illness, or perhaps to explain why a particular pupil was slow to get going with his AS work at the beginning of the year, but is now doing fine.

Connie Cullen, who is responsible for admissions and school liaison at York University, says that in this case the college could say quite straightforwardly on the student's Ucas form that her performance has been marred by coursework supported by an inexperienced teacher, "or even something much simpler, about 'one atypical module'". But the explanation needs to brief. Schools ought to be in the business of promoting students on this form, not apologising for them. If more needs to be outlined, it can be done in a separate letter to the universities concerned.

On the other hand, if the college refutes this parent's analysis of the problem, and denies any responsibility for a poor result, it will be up to the student or her parents to make a case to the universities she has applied for.

But trying to explain away bad results in the limited space of a Ucas form is not the best way to go. This is much better devoted to listing achievements and personal qualities. A concise letter to the universities concerned, setting out the situation and providing as much evidence as possible that things are as you say, would be better. And do it as soon as the Ucas form has been sent off. That way, admissions officers will have everything together on file when they sit down to consider the student's application.


I was in a similar situation after my AS-levels. One of my history modules was being appealed and I was retaking an English language module. I put the grades in the modules I'd completed in the "qualifications obtained" column, and those I wasn't happy with in the "qualifications not yet obtained" column. This gives the admissions officer some idea of what grades you expect. It worked for me - I'm at Cambridge. It might be worth your daughter writing a covering letter, or asking a teacher to write one, to the universities that she's most keen on, explaining the situation.

Thea Wilson, Colchester

Are you sure the college is to blame for your daughter's poor result? Parents are too quick to leap to such conclusions. Children claim they weren't given the right help, weren't told that something might come up in an exam, or that they never studied a topic that did come up, and parents believe them - but it is often untrue. Unwillingness to take responsibility for anything is becoming endemic in our society, and this blame culture drives teachers away from the classroom.

Virginia Smart, Bristol

Do everything you can to explain to the universities what happened. When I was studying for A-levels, my chemistry teacher left, and we had supply teachers for the rest of the year. When we did get another teacher she couldn't keep order. We all did badly, and lots of us failed to get into our first-choice university as a result. The school never offered to explain to universities, and it never occurred to us that we could do anything.

Karen Brookland, Cheshire


We have tried everything we can think of to make cars slow down outside our children's primary school, and to persuade people not to park on yellow lines, but nothing seems to work. We have had discussions with the council,articles written in the local newspaper and put up notices. We feel it is only a matter of time before a child is killed or seriously injured. What else can we do?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 28 July, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser