Second Oxford University college shuns A-levels to accept all offer-holders

16 August 2020, 18:24

Several Oxford colleges have made special provisions
Several Oxford colleges have made special provisions. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

A second Oxford college has promised to give places to all offer-holders regardless of their A-level grades. 

Wadham College suggested its own tutors’ assessments of applicants in the gruelling Oxford interview process were more trustworthy than A-levels this year.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been told to “get a grip” of the fiasco after 280,000 grades - nearly 40 per cent of the total - were lowered by a controversial algorithm used by England’s exam regulator, meaning many have lost their university places. 

Wadham’s warden Ken Macdonald QC, said: “It has become increasingly clear to the College that this year’s formal gradings are not adding to our knowledge of applicants’ ability to the extent that we could safely conclude that some of those previously selected for offers should now be denied their places.”

He added: “In these circumstances, and with full confidence in their ability, Wadham College will admit all 2020 offer-holders. Those applicants whose courses are now full will be guaranteed deferred entry for 2021.”

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Students protested outside Downing Street this weekend
Students protested outside Downing Street this weekend. Picture: PA

It follows Worcester College vowing to do the same on Friday. Oxford’s Somerville College said it has “confirmed a record number of offers this year and is now at maximum capacity”. 

Somerville College added that it has extended “clemency” to “as many students as possible”, especially high-performers from state schools in disadvantaged areas who have been hit especially hard by the marking system. 

An open letter to Oxford University, signed by more than 2,700 alumni, called for all colleges to make offers unconditional, with deferred entry where courses were full.

But Oxford said in a statement it has offered places to more than 300 offer-holders who failed to meet their grades, the "overwhelming majority" from state schools.

The institution said its state school intake this year currently stands at 67.8% - an increase of 5.7% points compared to 2019.

A spokesman added: "It is not possible to give place to all state school offer holders as we are constrained by government Student Number Controls. We also do not have space to admit any more students while meeting social distancing restrictions and other health and safety challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic."

Universities are grappling with the furious fallout from A-level results day last week, with urgently-sought guidance on how schools can appeal students’ grades deleted by Ofqual, the regulator, late on Saturday night - hours after it was published. 

Read more: Government U-turn sees free appeals against A-level and GCSE results in England

Read more: Worcester College Oxford accepts all offer-holders regardless of A-level results

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Durham University told students on Sunday that it would “ensure you a place on your course” if they meet their offer conditions following an appeal. 

“We will do our very best to enrol you in 2020,” the institution said. “If that is not possible, then you will have a guaranteed place for entry in 2021.”

Meanwhile, Leicester University has promised to accept offer-holders’ mock grades if they are higher than final A-level grades, irrespective of whether they appeal. 

Ucas, the university and colleges admissions service, set a 7 September deadline for applicants to meet the conditions of their offers and with clearing in full swing, time is running out. 

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Some pupils gathered at Westminster this weekend to protest against the results, while others have launched legal action in an attempt to get their downgrades reversed through the courts.

In a brief statement, Ofqual said its guidance on the “triple lock” appeals process announced 36 hours before results day by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is "being reviewed" by its board and further information will be released "in due course", despite mounting anger ahead of GCSE results day next week. 

Downing Street and the Department for Education declined to comment. Ofqual did not respond to requests for comment.