Thousands will miss out on university places as exam board slashes number of A-level top grades


Thousands will miss out on university places this year as exam board slashes number of A-level top grades by 60,000 in bid to ‘reinstate’ grade boundaries after two years of teacher-assessed tests

  •  Ofqual, the exam watchdog, announced it intends to set grade boundaries  
  •  The boundaries will be defined by ‘a staging post between 2019 and 2021’
  •  Grades as a result are likely to be higher than 2019, but lower than seen last year
  •  Critics say students are being treated unfairly compared to leavers of 2021

Exam boards are expected to hand out 60,000 fewer top grades this summer, meaning tens of thousands of teenagers sitting A-levels could miss out on university places in what has predicted to be ‘one of the most competitive’ years for admissions.

Ofqual, the exam watchdog, announced earlier this month that it intends to set grade boundaries that ‘reflect a staging post between 2019 and 2021.’

Speaking at the Confederation of School Trusts’ annual conference in Birmingham, chief regulator Dr Jo Saxton said the approach was being adopted as a way of reinstating grading following two years of disruption to exams caused by the pandemic.

She warned education leaders: ‘2022 results are likely to be higher than in 2019, when summer grades were last determined by exams, but lower than we saw in 2021. 

Exam boards are expected to hand out 60,000 fewer top grades this summer, meaning tens of thousands of teenagers sitting A-levels could miss out on university places

Exam boards are expected to hand out 60,000 fewer top grades this summer, meaning tens of thousands of teenagers sitting A-levels could miss out on university places 

‘This means that your schools are highly likely to find their results are lower than in 2021 when exams did not go ahead. 

‘Schools that get higher results than in 2021 will be few and far between, if any.’ 

But critics say the system is unfairly treating the class of 2022 – who did not take their GCSEs because of the pandemic and had months of remote learning – compared with last year’s school leavers, whose grades were determined by teachers, rather than exams.

In 2019, the last year students took public exams before the national lockdown, 57,410 A* grades – equal to 7.7 per cent of all grades – were awarded.

Last summer, that figure jumped to 144,440 A* grades or 19.1 per cent of all grades.

In 2019, 25 per cent of all grades were A* or A, compared to 45 per cent in 2021. 

Dennis Sherwood, a former external consultant for Ofqual and partner with accountants Coopers & Lybrand, told The Sunday Times that this year looked set to be ‘one of the most competitive’ if fewer top grades are handed out.

He said:  ‘Their older siblings had opportunities, they were the lucky ones, but the class of 2022 is unlucky in that they were born into this year’s cohort rather than being in the class of 2021 or that of 2020.’

Ucas, the universities admissions service, reported that universities had made fewer offers this year and are predicting around 20 per cent of students will not get their preferred choice.

Ofqual chief regulator Jo Saxton (pictured) announced earlier this month that exam grade boundaries will be set that 'reflect a staging post between 2019 and 2021' for this year's results

Ofqual chief regulator Jo Saxton (pictured) announced earlier this month that exam grade boundaries will be set that ‘reflect a staging post between 2019 and 2021’ for this year’s results

Last year, universities made offers in response to 70 per cent of applications, compared to this year, at around 66 per cent. 

Mother-of-three Kate Peters said the situation was unfair and described this year’s cohort of students as ‘like a forgotten generation.’

Her daughter was turned down by Exeter University to study psychology despite predictions to get two A*s and an A grade.

She said: ‘They said they were accepting students with three A*s this year and told her not to feel bad, because they had also turned down someone doing five A-levels.’

In May, Ofqual confirmed that GCSE and A-Level exams will return to pre-Covid rules from next year and will scrap measures that were put in place to help pupils during the pandemic.

The decision by the exam regulator means that GCSE students will now be asked questions from across the curriculum, as opposed to choosing their topics in a number of subjects.

To take into account the chaos caused by the pandemic, it said there should be a choice of topics in GCSE English literature, history and ancient history and a choice of content in GCSE geography for pupils this year.

 Ucas predicts around 20 per cent of students will not get their preferred choice of university

But Ofqual has now confirmed ‘the return to full subject content coverage for those GCSE subjects’ for next year.

Adjustments to coursework, science practicals and fieldwork in place for this year will also no longer apply for the 2022/23 academic year. 

In guidance published today, Ofqual said it will ‘continue to monitor’ the impact of the pandemic and that it would evaluate the mitigations used to help pupils this year.

Ofqual added that it would consider its approach to grading in 2023 ‘in light of outcomes in 2022’.

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