Sixth-form students across the country will receive their A Level results today which have been graded by teachers.
The teacher-assessed grades come after the summer exams were cancelled for the second year in a row due to the pandemic.
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Thousands of pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be hoping to progress on to university, work or training after completing their A Levels, with experts predicting that “inflation” may occur this year.
U-turn over grading
A record high of almost two in five (38.6 per cent) of UK A Level entries were awarded A or A* grades last year after the government announced a U-turn over grading, allowing teachers to award the final grade.
This was up from just one in four (25.5 per cent) in 2019.
The decision by Ofqual to change the grading system came after many students saw their results downgraded from school estimates by a controversial algorithm.
Results will be awarded by teachers again this year, with the decision being based on a range of evidence, including mock exams, coursework and in-class assessments using questions by exam boards.
The Department for Education (DfE) has said all awarded grades have been checked by schools as part of a quality assurance (QA) process, while one in five schools had a sample of their grades checked by exam boards.
If more students gain top grades this year, it has been suggested that it will be more difficult for the UK’s top universities to differentiate between applicants.
Meanwhile, those who miss out on the grades required to meet their university offers are likely to face tougher competition for a place at leading institutions, as there may be fewer courses on offer in clearing.
Education unions are advising parents and students against using law firms to challenge their results, and appealing grades just “for the sake of appealing”.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “There is certainly a worry that we are going to face more appeals than normal, but we just don’t know yet.
“Although the appeal system is there to bring a further level of confidence, spurious appeals or hopeful appeals will probably be a waste of time because the system that’s been brought in is a robust system for this year.”
“My only appeal to students and students’ parents is that a lot of work has gone into this assessment, you should be able to rely upon the assessment so simply putting an appeal in for the sake of appealing in the hope that your grade might move would be the wrong thing to do.”
Clearing will be ‘competitive’
The head of the admissions service warned last week that clearing is expected to be “more competitive” for students hoping for a place at selective universities this year due to uncertainty over teacher-assessed grades.
Students have been urged by Ucas to make a decision over which courses they want to take “in a matter of days”, rather than weeks, to boost their chances of getting accepted.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), warned that students may have difficulty landing a spot on a top course this year if grades are missed.
He said: “It could be harder to get in than usual if you fall a grade or two behind your offer and if it is a competitive course.
“My advice would be to act swiftly if you need to find a place somewhere else.”
The Medical Schools Council (MSC), which represents 44 heads of medical schools across the UK, has also warned that some schools may still struggle to increase the number of students they admit, despite the announcement that medicine and dentistry schools will be given additional funding to expand courses.
The MSC said that those who want to study medicine will have the option to defer their place until next year, or move to a different medical school due to capacity constraints.
Despite concerns over places and grading following last year’s fiasco, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said that teachers and staff have ensured all students are able to receive grades this year and pupils should be “incredibly proud of their achievements” after “an extraordinary and challenging year”.
He added: “We should all celebrate their resilience and ability to overcome adversity.”
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