Students should get their exam results before applying to university, says union

‘The use of predicted grades is out of date and no longer fit for purpose,’ headteachers’ union says

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Tuesday 19 June 2018 14:58
Comments
Students will receive their a-level results and university places in August
Students will receive their a-level results and university places in August

Universities should stop using predicted grades when deciding whether to offer students a place, a union has said.

The University and College Union (UCU) – which represents university staff – has called for an “urgent overhaul” of the system as it says the UK is “out of step” with the rest of the world.

Britain is the only nation that uses predicted A-level grades, made by teachers, for university admissions, according to a UCU study that looked at different systems in 30 major countries.

The UCU said research shows only 16 per cent of A-level grade predictions are correct – and it argues the current system has encouraged the use of unconditional offers by universities.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: “We are alone in the world in using a system where students are offered university places based on highly inaccurate predicted grades.

“Unconditional offers have made a mockery of exams and led to inflated grade predictions, while putting students under enormous pressure to make a snap decision about their future.”

She added: “The simplest and fairest way to deal with these problems is for us to adopt a system of post-qualification admissions, where offers are based on actual achievement rather than estimated potential, as the rest of the world does.

“It’s time for the government to give the system the urgent overhaul it needs.”

And a headteachers’ union has backed the call for a review of the admissions system, arguing that it is “out of date” and not “fit for purpose”.

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “ASCL echoes the concerns in this report about the use of predicted grades to award university places and calls on the government to review the system urgently.

“Out of date and no longer fit for purpose, it is a historical quirk which is not mirrored in other countries and creates unnecessary problems.”

He added: “In particular, we are extremely concerned about the rising number of unconditional offers made to students before they have taken their A-levels.

“This practice can demotivate students and lead to under-performance in these important qualifications which disadvantages them if prospective future employers take their A-level grades into account.

“Moving to a system of post-qualifications admissions would end the practice of unconditional offers. There are practical challenges in introducing a system of post-qualifications admissions but we do not believe these are insurmountable.”

The study comes before students find out whether their A-level results have secured them a university place in August.

Clare Marchant, chief executive of Ucas, the university admissions body, said clearing – the process by which students can apply for leftover courses – already provides a post-qualification admissions system for students who want to wait until they have their results before applying.

She said: “This issue has been examined many times. When Ucas ran a UK-wide review and consultation in 2012, the outcome was that, while a post-results admissions service had much appeal, it would be likely to significantly disadvantage underrepresented and disabled students.

“Furthermore, it would require structural change to either the secondary or higher education systems to implement it.

“It was felt that students from disadvantaged backgrounds would be less likely to have access to teachers and support in making application choices, and universities and colleges would have insufficient time to consider applications holistically.

“They would therefore be unable to put in place the support services to help care leavers, first in family, and disabled students, amongst others, prepare for higher education.”

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