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Universities struggle to cope following A-level results fiasco

Written by Current Affairs, National, News, On Campus

The release of the A-level results on 13th August left many English students anxious and uncertain about their future. In what has been an unprecedented situation, the exam(less) results are still causing havoc among students applying to university.

The challenges raised by the COVID-19 pandemic led to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, and Ofqual to introduce new methods of calculating A-level results. Grades were calculated by a computer algorithm that took into account centre-assessed predicted grades, students’ past performance and the schools’ previous results records.

Williamson told the BBC: “The system, for the overwhelming majority of young people, is going to deliver, you know, credible, strong results for every single one of them”.

“It’s a robust system, it’s a fair system, it’s making sure that young people get the grades that they’ve worked so hard towards.”

Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary

However, almost 40% of English students were downgraded, mainly those coming from lower socio-economic backgrounds were the most affected.

Research carried out by the Guardian found that of 500 applicants to Birmingham and Nottingham Universities, 82% of white students were satisfied with their results, whereas this number dropped to 67% of black students and 42% of Asian applicants. Additionally, 81% of students from fee-paying schools were satisfied, while only 67% of state school students were happy with the results.

After a weekend of protests, Ofqual issued a statement leading to a major u-turn. Chair of Ofqual Roger Taylor apologised to students saying: “After reflection, we have decided that the best way to do this is to award grades based on what teachers submitted.” From then on, the A-level results would be based on the centre-assessed grades instead of on a computer algorithm.

The backlash has resulted in the resignation of Ofqual’s chief, Sally Collier. Meanwhile, demonstrators keep calling for Williamson to step down and take accountability.

An anonymous applicant for marketing and management at Newcastle University explained: “Newcastle has yet to contact me as their phone lines were full when I rang them. To be honest, I wouldn’t say it was the best handling as they purely went off the grades and didn’t consider the external situation.”

“Obviously there is only so much they can do, but they told me the course was full and put me on a clearing waiting list.”

With this sudden change, applicants have been trying to contacting their university choices. Newcastle University’s director of admissions, Emma Reay, described the situation as a “logistical nightmare” since in two hours the university received over 700 calls. Reay said: “One way or another, we will honour an offer for them no matter what the course.”

You can read the University’s full statement here.

“It may be that some students have to consider that being next year, to cope with the demand, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Emma Reay, Newcastle University’s director of admissions

After some students had to accept their insurance choice, Williamson announced the cap on university paces will be removed. The education secretary said: “We’re removing those caps on every single university in the United Kingdom so that they have the ability to expand the number of places, welcoming more students into those universities, as many as possible.”

However, this new measure raises concerns concerning the logistics around keeping campuses safe for students, following the rules of social distancing.

New grades were sent to universities on Friday the 21st and have been processed during this past weekend. Newcastle University has confirmed that those who already have a place in the university will continue to do so even if the Centre Assessed Grades (CAG) is lower. If thanks to the CAG you meet the conditions of the original offer, you are advised to contact the university.

As of today, the university has opened a helpline 9-5pm from Tuesday to Friday: 0800 0735050 (+44 0191 222 5000 for overseas calls).

Featured image credit: Sylvie Belbouab [twitter:@sylviebelbouab]

Last modified: 26th August 2020

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