Universities urged to keep places open for A-level appeals

11 August 2020, 07:58

Universities have been told they should keep places available for a-level appeals
Universities have been told they should keep places available for a-level appeals. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Universities have been urged to hold places for students challenging their A-level grades until they receive the outcome of the appeal.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan has called on institutions to be "flexible" and take into account a range of evidence when choosing which students to admit ahead of A-level results day.

Students whose grades meet their university offer conditions following a successful appeal will be exempt from counting towards the Government's temporary student number controls, Ms Donelan said.

It comes amid fears that students could miss out on their first-choice university if the exam boards take a long time to process appeals after exams were cancelled amid Covid-19.

Schools were asked to submit the grades they thought students would have received if they had sat the exams. Exam boards have moderated these grades to ensure this year's results are not significantly higher than previous years and the value of students' grades are not undermined.

Exams were cancelled for students this year
Exams were cancelled for students this year. Picture: PA

Last month, Ofqual said this summer's A-level results would have been 12 percentage points better than last year if teacher-assessment grades had not gone through standardisation.

Ms Donelan said some talented pupils' achievements may not be reflected in the grades - especially in schools that have not had strong results in the past.

In a letter to vice-chancellors ahead of A-level results day on Thursday, she said: "We expect the vast majority of grades to be accurate, but it is essential that we have this safety net for young people who may otherwise be held back from moving on to their chosen route."

The universities minister urged: "Where you are aware that a student's grade may change as the result of an appeal, I would encourage you, where possible, to hold their place until they receive the result of that appeal."

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The Ucas deadline - for applicants to meet their academic offer conditions - is September 7, which leaves exam boards less than four weeks to issue outcomes of appeals.

In the letter, Ms Donelan said: "I know that the exam boards are committed to doing all that is possible to resolve appeals for affected candidates by that date. For all other candidates, the exam boards will aim to respond within 42 calendar days, and earlier wherever possible."

This year, universities in England are only allowed to recruit 5% more UK students than their targets to prevent institutions from over-recruiting to make up for lost revenue amid Covid-19.

But Ms Donelan has decided to make some exceptions for students challenging results.

The letter said: "This will apply to students whose grades are subject to an appeal, where that appeal is successful, the student's grades are increased, and they then meet conditions of the student's offer. This exemption is limited to these circumstances only."

"Nobody should have to put their future on hold because of this virus. That is why I am urging universities to be as flexible as possible in their admissions and to hold places for those whose grades are being appealed," Ms Donelan said.

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It comes after Nicola Sturgeon announced that pupils who had their recent exam results downgraded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) would not all be expected to appeal.

The First Minister apologised to those students who were affected - seeming to acknowledge those in more deprived areas were hardest hit.

When students in England receive their results later this week, they will not be allowed to challenge their grades themselves. Instead, schools and colleges will need to appeal over the results on their behalf.

On Monday, Boris Johnson said he understood there was "anxiety" about grades as pupils prepare to receive results after exams were cancelled.

He said he was "very, very keen" that GCSE and A-level exams should go ahead as normal in the coming academic year.

A spokesman for the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents exam boards, said: "As in every year, the exam boards are committed to prioritising appeals where there are university places at stake.

"They are working to ensure that appeals are completed prior to the Ucas deadline. It is important that schools and colleges submit their applications for appeals as quickly as possible."

On the September 7 deadline, a Ucas spokesman said: "This is to allow for more flexibility for universities, colleges and applicants to manage the disruption to the admissions cycle arising from the coronavirus pandemic.

"This remains an advisory deadline and we encourage students and universities to stay in touch with each other if grades are appealed."

A Universities UK spokeswoman said: "Universities will take into account the unique circumstances of applicants, as they always have done, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"Universities will also try to be as flexible as possible with those deciding to appeal and will keep their applicants up-to-date on the implications of the appeals process for 2020 entry.

"It is important that any appeals are completed as quickly as possible, as universities will start welcoming students very soon."