Repercussion from last year’s A-level grade misallocation being felt by bright young people

A seventeen-year-old, with a national swimming award, and   predicted grades of A*A*A has been rejected by Liverpool University and this is just one of many. According to The Guardian newspaper’s education website: “… Eve could have expected a string of top university offers in an ordinary year.” There is nothing ordinary about 2020, as COVID-19 meant school closure and GCSE and A-level grades having to be awarded by teacher assessment. This led to inflated A-level grades, especially at the top end of A to A* where grade inflation is as much as 10 to 15% in some cases.

This young lady is just one of many, as some cases of rejection by university are even more alarming.

As reported by The Guardian, there is another young man – Fitan – who was predicated four A* grades but was rejected by both Cambridge and LSE.

The following is a quote from the Director of Admissions at Bath University, Mike Nicholls: “I know from my conversations with schools that there are students with very good predicted grades who had received no offers, while students predicted three B grades got lots of offers back very quickly. Many high-flyers may be left with just one offer.”

What made the above more surprising is that both students attend state schools. Both Cambridge and Oxford have been reducing the number of students they take from independent (private) schools and increasing the numbers from state school for the last couple decades.

Many top universities had no option but to accept a much higher number of students than usual onto their courses. Not only did some of them offer up to a third more places in 2020, but they also had to give a huge number of deferred places to students, meaning those who can just start their courses in 2021 without the need to apply again. In 2020, Liverpool University offered 142 places on the dentistry course and deferred another 152 for the following year. In 2021, they only made 43 offers and deferred 30.

Another ramification for the A-level cohort of 2020 is lost learning time, and this is much worse for those with deferred grades. One of the issues that worry me is the number of students who were given a deferred place and who are studying a knowledge intensive course such as dentistry. Many of them have not done any learning since March 2020, and they will be embarking on a degree course like medicine in the autumn of 2021 – a huge gap exists between when they last studied with any form of seriousness and their degree course.

These young people were told that exams were cancelled in March 2020 and the vast majority of them stopped being taught, missing almost three months on intensive studying and revision before A-level exams. By the autumn of 2021, the majority of these young people would probably have done very little or no studying at all for about 18 months before starting a university course. I wonder if there will be any ramification for this in terms of their ability to cope with their degree course. Let’s not forget that there was grade inflation of up to 15% in some cases and some of these students would not have achieved the high grade that they were awarded in the teacher assessment method by which the grades were allocated. I hope the universities will organise some sort of remedial courses to help them catch up.


Could rejection and demoralisation of so many young people have been avoided?

It must be noted that this is not the worst consequence of grade misallocation and inflation, which came about as a result of teacher assessment in 2020. The worst is the A-level candidates, who would have achieved the top grades but ended up with lower grades and missed out on university places. Many of these young people are now taking legal action on what they see rightly as injustice. This is the topic of my latest blogpost, and you can read it on this website.

For young people who do not care which university they go to, they needn’t worry at all, as, for the less reputable universities, any grade will do! The only people who seem to be penalised are those who are ambitious and bright enough to get the high grades, but are not given a fair chance to show what they can do. In my view, I see no reason why a proper exam, albeit with a much-reduced content, could not have taken place, at least in 2021. There was plenty of time to organise a proper exam   completely administered by the exam boards. Considering supermarkets were allowed to open throughout the pandemic and what I see there is not so much social distancing, there is no reason why exams could not have taken place in one form or the other in 2021. Yes, we have to eat, but there does not have to be so many people in the supermarkets, as there are other ways of getting food and people are not starving in this country. Food shops are just about the only place people could go at the height of the pandemic, so many went to shops, just to mingle with other humans! Exams in reduced numbers, and with a drastically reduced content, are manageable and is a much fairer process than teacher assessment. It would have met three of the key requirements of exam fairness: relevance, consistency and has integrity, which is similar to what the AQA exam board uses to gauge fairness – validity, reliability and comparability.