The chairman of the Independent Schools Council (ISC) has said comments he gave in a newspaper interview about independent schools lobbying Oxbridge, which sparked a furious backlash from universities, MPs and state schools, were misrepresented.
Barnaby Lenon, a former headmaster of Harrow, advised independent schools to write to elite universities on behalf of students that missed the entry requirements “straight away” before results day, breaching Ofqual guidance.
The ISC represents around 1,300 independent schools.
Some expect a surge in A and A* grades this year after exam boards announced plans for teacher-assessed grades after a bumper crop of top grades in 2020, up 10 to 12% compared to 2019.
Lenon told the Sunday Times: “If you have a pupil who needs three As and you know they have got two As and a B, approach that university and say: ‘This student is going to drop a grade, but they have missed four months of school because of Covid or a parent died, so please consider them.’
“If I was a head… I might stop short of declaring what the exact grades are, but I would want to start getting my two pennyworth in now rather than waiting till August 10, when it can be too late.”
In a statement released by the ISC, Lenon said the article about lobbying Oxbridge “misrepresented my comments on pupils who might have missed university grade requirements”.
He said: “Any pupil – in any school – who has suffered particular hardship through the Covid period through bereavement or illness or other special circumstances should be fairly treated.”
“A few schools in the state sector and the independent sector will be putting the case for a small number of individuals so that these special circumstances can be taken into account.
Any pupil – in any school – who has suffered particular hardship through the Covid period through bereavement or illness or other special circumstances should be fairly treated – Barnaby Lenon, Independent Schools Council
“It is completely normal for schools to send important additional information to universities that was not contained in the UCAS reference, in both state and independent sectors. Indeed some universities have specifically requested this information from schools.
“The ISC is not aware of large or increased numbers of special circumstances this year but there will always be a few pupils who have particular difficulties to overcome that might affect their grades and schools will want to alert universities to this without breaking any of the rules over disclosure of grades. It is not a sector-specific issue.”
The Sunday Times reported university figures that claim to have received letters outlining extenuating circumstances from independent schools.
The chief executive of UCAS, Clare Marchant, sought to dispel concerns about the lobbying of university admissions departments and Oxbridge colleges in the run-up to results day on 10 August.
“I don’t know a university that’ll have any time for that at all,” Marchant told an online audience of sector professionals.
University professionals and admissions professionals work as we do – for a fair and transparent admissions service. And they won’t have any truck with [lobbying] at all – Clare Marchant, UCAS
“So it doesn’t concern me […] You know, university professionals and admissions professionals work as we do – for a fair and transparent admissions service.
“And they won’t have any truck with that at all.”
The furore came after a survey of more than 3,000 teachers found that a significant minority have been “approached or pressured” by parents about grades – 23% of teachers at private schools, compared to 14% of those working in a state school.