In early January, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson outlined how pupils will be graded after their summer GCSE and A-level exams were cancelled.
He said there will be “no algorithms whatsoever” to determine results and that the government is “putting trust firmly in teachers” to award grades, with an appeals system in place if students believe their grades to be unjust.
This comes after the system used in 2020 relied on an algorithm that left thousands of A-level students having their results downgraded from the school estimates, before Ofqual announced a U-turn which allowed them to use teachers’ predictions.
Whilst the government eventually bowed to the criticism, many students were left with complications in their applications, with stories of students who didn’t make their first-choice university due to the original algorithmic grading, and again deprived of their offer post-grade change after their place was given to another student.
Theoretically, with the government’s proposal, students will be able to apply to universities using their predicted grades as normal, and later the grades awarded by teachers will determine whether they are able to take up the place they are offered, in the same way usual exam grades are used.
There are, however, conceivable issues that could arise with this system. Katherine Newborough, a current teacher, told The Courier:
“The impact of the cancellation of exams is far more pervasive than what meets the eye, this year’s students are being assessed on the basis of their classroom education over the past years, despite an immense disruption to this way of learning.
"It’s more than conceivable that students will be working at a lesser capacity given the circumstances, potentially disadvantaging their grading comparative to standard exam years.”
She added: “It's imperative that universities take equal accountability for the plugging of educational gaps lost as a result of remote learning, whilst also ensuring that those pursuing higher education are not penalised for these gaps.
"Whilst schools and colleges have been highly focused on remedying the issues COVID-19 has caused, universities specifically must step in and create a bridge between the support schools are giving students, and the ultimate outcome of their education.”
Sian Dickie, Education Officer at Newcastle University, extended the University’s compassion for prospective students:
"This has been a difficult year for students both at the University currently, and for those who are prospective students of Newcastle University. The grades that are decided by teacher assessment at A-Level study are obviously out of control of Universities and students across the country.
"Newcastle is aware of this and is very sympathetic of what those students must be going through. I have been particularly reassured that the University will be doing everything it can to be fair to all students, particularly those from widening participation backgrounds who may need additional support in their transition to University."