Worcester College at Oxford accepts all students with offers amid A-level chaos

14 August 2020, 20:47

The grounds of Worcester College in Oxford
The grounds of Worcester College in Oxford. Picture: Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

By Megan White

An Oxford college has given places to every student who was offered one amid Thursday’s A-level results fiasco.

Worcester College, at the University of Oxford, said they made offers to their “most diverse cohort ever” and confirmed the places after the “uncertainties surrounding this year’s assessment.”

Results day descended into chaos after thousands of students had their scores downgraded, leaving many missing out on top university places.

Read more: Students march on Downing Street to protest 'complete injustice' of A-level results

But in a statement, the college said: “Many members of our college community and beyond have expressed their concern for the potential impact of yesterday’s A Level results on this year’s incoming students.

“At Worcester we made offers in 2020 to our most diverse cohort ever, and in response to the uncertainties surrounding this year’s assessment, we have confirmed the places of all our UK offer-holders, irrespective of their A-level results.”

Worcester College admissions tutor explains why they are accepting all place-holders

Exams were suspended during the coronavirus pandemic, with teachers’ marks instead being adjusted by an algorithm to deliver final grades.

Ofqual revealed that 39.1% of teachers' estimates for pupils in England were adjusted down by one grade or more.

Professor Laura Ashe, Tutor for Admissions at Worcester College, told LBC's Rachel Johnson that "it seemed wrong" that those whose grades were pulled down by the previous performance of their school should suffer.

"In a normal year we over offer a bit and we assume that some people won't make their grades and then we don't accept them," Prof Ashe said.

"But when A-levels were cancelled and we realised this was going to mean that none of these students were going to actually be taking these exams we felt that we weren't going to have any new information that reflected directly on their ability or their potential.

"So we took the view at that point that we were going to need to find a way to make places for all these people."

Prof Ashe added that the algorithm the government has used has made it unfair for bright students from traditionally low-performing schools.

"Groups of students that were underrepresented at Oxford, students who come from more disadvantaged backgrounds were disproportionately affected by this year's grades," she said.

"It was announced just quite recently by Ofqual that the prior performance of schools was going to play a key role in how that grades were calculated and that means if someone is the brightest person their school has ever seen their grade was going to be pulled down by the fact other people in earlier years hasn't performed as well.

"And that seemed wrong for us."

The move prompted praise by many people, who said it was “definitely the right response to the absolute mess that exam results have been this year.”

Another social media user said: “Well done Worcester College.

“You have shown the way for other Universities and Colleges to behave in the fairest manner and ignore the blatantly flawed Ofqual algorithm and its inbuilt prejudices.”

Around 100 demonstrators, including pupils who received their results on Thursday, expressed anger and disappointment outside Downing Street as they called for the Education Secretary to be sacked amid the controversy.

Marching down Whitehall towards the Department for Education on Friday afternoon, protesters chanted "sack Gavin Williamson" and "teachers not Tories" whilst holding placards.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted that he has confidence in Mr Williamson and described the system as "robust".

On Friday, Robert Halfon, the Conservative chairman of the Commons Education Committee, expressed concern that the model used by Ofqual to moderate A-level results penalised disadvantaged students.

He called on the regulator to publish details of the algorithm it used to make its calculations.

"I am worried about it because some figures suggest that disadvantaged students have been penalised again," he said.

"I am also worried about further education colleges because they have been improving in recent years and yet they seem also to have suffered under this grading system.

"If the model has penalised disadvantaged groups this is very serious and if it has disadvantaged colleges that has to be looked at. Ofqual will have to adjust the grades."

Ofqual has said that a "rare few centres" put in "implausibly high judgments", and said that an appeals process is in place to correct any mistakes.

Mr Halfon added that the appeals system needed to be broadened so that every student who felt they had lost out could use it.

"We have to have a wider appeals system, a quick appeals system that is for everyone, not just the sharp-elbowed and well-heeled," he said.