Schools press universities over admissions plans in wake of government U-turn

The announcement that teacher-assessed A-level results are to be reinstated has led to widespread uncertainty over how admissions to higher education will be managed

Following yesterday’s [17 August] announcement that the government will reinstate teacher-assessed A-level results, attention has shifted onto how universities plan to deal with the consequent turmoil surrounding admissions.

For example, it is as yet unclear whether or not admissions decisions can be revisited if a course is already full.

A further complication arises from the government’s stipulation that students who accepted course offers based on downgraded results will be free to release themselves if an offer from another university is reinstated based on updated grades.

“We need urgent clarity on how universities intend to manage admissions, as there are currently limits to the number of places they can offer,” said Dr Simon Hyde, the incoming general secretary of the Headmasters’ and Headmistress’ Conference (HMC), and head of the King’s School, Macclesfield.  “Schools cannot afford a further period of confusion.

“The decision to trust teachers to be the best judges of the abilities of their pupils will go a long way to restoring public confidence in the exams system. While the new process is far from problem free, it is the fairest way forward in the circumstances and I know HMC heads will raise themselves to make it work.”

In related news: HMC among those pressing the government to revert to teacher-assessed grades

Hyde’s words were echoed by David EJJ Lloyd, head of Solihull School.

“We are delighted that the government has finally seen sense and re-established trust in the teaching profession,” he said. “I now sincerely hope that universities have the capacity to revisit offers and admit pupils deserving of their places, this academic year.”

While welcoming the government’s change of heart over awarding this year’s A-level and GCSE grades, Lloyd was nevertheless scathing about the gap between yesterday’s announcement and the original release of A-level results last Thursday.

“Accusations that schools have abused the system are ill-founded and insulting; leaving our pupils and their families in such an awful position for five days is inexcusable,” he said.

“The government simply failed to listen soon enough to those of us managing the fallout of poor and inflexible decision making at the highest level.  The damage to wellbeing and the added burden placed on schools and universities were wholly unnecessary.”

We need urgent clarity on how universities intend to manage admissions – Dr Simon Hyde, incoming HMC general secretary

An outline of the “burden” now being carried by higher education institutions was given by Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK.

“We are seeking urgent clarification and advice from government on a number of crucial issues,” he said.

“[The U-turn] will cause challenges at this late stage in the admissions process – capacity, staffing, placements and facilities – particularly with the social distance measures in place. Universities will do everything they can to work through these issues in the days ahead.

“The government will need to step up and support universities through the challenges created by this late policy change.”

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