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Students could receive university offers after A-Levels in overhaul of admissions system

Move aimed at combating ‘unfairness’ due to inaccurate grade predictions

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has outlined plans to potentially move the admissions process to after students have received their final exam results in a review of the university admissions system.

Under the current process, students apply to universities before their exams and are made offers based upon their predicted grades.

This approach has received criticism for unfairly discriminating against disadvantaged groups. Research from UCL’s Institute of Education shows that almost a quarter of high-ability applicants from lower-income households had their results under-predicted between 2013 and 2015.

Predicted grades are also notoriously inaccurate, with UCAS data for 2019 showing 79% of 18-year-olds in the UK accepted into university with at least 3 A-levels had their grades over-predicted, while 8% were under-predicted.

In a press release, Williamson said: “We should celebrate the fact that we are seeing record numbers of disadvantaged students going to university, but the current admissions system is letting down the brightest pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. Using predicted grades is limiting the aspirations of students before they know what they can achieve.”

UCAS Chief Executive Clare Merchant praised the government for looking at reform but urged further consultation was needed before plans were finalised: “There are different approaches to reform, so it’s right for any consultation to be open-minded and have the aim of levelling up fairness for students. Importantly, the consultation will provide an opportunity to address any unintended consequences of such major change, as well as practicalities for higher education providers.”

The announcement follows the Covid admissions crisis from earlier this year, where 40% of students’ predicted results were downgraded by automatic adjustments – without sitting any exams – with many arguing the algorithm disadvantaged the poorest students most. The fallout forced a U-turn from the government, allowing teachers to forecast grades, so it is little wonder they seek to move away from pre-exam admissions.

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