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Students with at-risk university offers prioritised for appeals

Government sets out plan for A-level results with no exams this summer

Students whose university places are at risk after A-level results day will be first in the queue to appeal their grades, the Department for Education has promised.

On 25 February the government released details on how its system of teacher-assessed grades will work this summer, following a joint consultation on the system with Ofqual that attracted around 100,000 responses.

The DfE said results will be published in the week of the 9 August to “provide additional time for appeals to be completed, so students reliant on those outcomes to achieve their university offer have the best chance of accessing a place”.

It is understood that universities will be expected to hold places for students who are appealing their grades until early September.

‘Fairest possible system’

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said A-level students “deserve to be fairly rewarded” for their work during the pandemic.

“That’s why we are providing the fairest possible system for those pupils, asking those who know them best—their teachers—to determine their grades, with our sole aim to make sure all young people can progress to the next stage of their education or career,” he said.

This is the second year exams have not taken place due to Covid-19, but students will rely on grades given by their teaches rather than an algorithm.

When A-level results were published on 13 August last year, it was revealed that the algorithm used to moderate students’ results had pulled down around 40 per cent of the grades awarded by teachers.

This led to some students seeing their university offers withdrawn before Williamson performed a U-turn and allowed them to keep their centre-assessed grades, which were often higher, if they wished.

Universities were then asked to honour their original offers to students, putting pressure on capacity. The DfE is not expecting grade inflation to be significantly higher compared to last year, and it is expected that universities have been more cautious in making offers to students this year to avoid an oversupply of candidates on results day.

University planning concerns

Commenting on the announcement, Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said there would still be “huge” uncertainties for admissions offices this year and raised concerns over the scope for more grade inflation.

He also warned that the “loose appeals system” for students “could easily get gummed up due to a high volume of appeals”, and he called on ministers to explain “whether there is a risk that their recent rhetoric means they could oppose an increase in students” given that student number caps were on the cards last summer.

“Universities that can grow will grow and many will be happy to do so. But some cannot easily grow further. The level of uncertainty is huge and there is a risk that last-minute interventions will disrupt even the best planning,” he said.

‘Robust and fair decision making’

Cat Turhan, a policy analyst at the Russell Group, said its institutions were pleased that results will continue to be “coupled” to university admissions, meaning universities will still be able to see results early and make decisions on offers that will reduce stress for applicants and pressure on appeals.

 “The decision to bring results day forward to early August will help universities better support students by giving more time to process results, make decisions and arrange crucial onboarding activities, while still allowing time for appeals. These positive changes will support our universities with robust and fair decision making, and allow them to be as flexible as possible to help ensure students are not disadvantaged by changes to assessments in 2021,” she added.