BLOG: A-level results - we must provide certainty and opportunity
By Professor Geoff Layer, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wolverhampton
Our young people need certainty and it’s our responsibility to provide that certainty wherever we can.
No one should underestimate the difficulty of managing challenging scenarios during a pandemic in the face of uncertainty, rapidly changing behaviours and regulation. But our young people have been out of school and college since March and, although teachers and families have worked hard with home schooling, the rite of passage of going through examinations and leaving their school together has been taken away from them. Students have not been able to demonstrate how well they can achieve in the final assessment and so teachers, drawing on all the evidence they have on individual pupil performance and using their professional judgement have calculated their grades for them. All of this was new and inevitably hurried but what has emerged as a result of the moderation applied to those carefully calculated grades by the national exam bodies should concern us all.
Thousands of young people who were on a clear trajectory to go to university or college have been awarded grades that make that future uncertain, not helped by the growing confusion over appeals and what is - and is not - in scope. Others would have planned to go straight into work but employment opportunities in a post-pandemic and Brexit Britain are likely to be limited. And taking a gap year to travel and experience different cultures will remain difficult for some time.
The mental health and wellbeing of our young people is a crucial aspect of our recovery from the calamitous impact of the pandemic but what toll is the current uncertainty over their futures exacting on them?
So it is up to society to seek to provide certainty and opportunity. Universities made thousands of decisions on the basis of the moderated grades before the publication of A-level results only to find the ground rules changed the day before students received those grades. I went to bed on Saturday evening having digested the Ofqual appeal guidance and woke up on Sunday to find it had been rescinded! As a University we have students from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales all of which adopted different methods to moderation of the calculated grades. Cross border issues, where some young people may live in one nation but study in another, add a further layer of complexity.
Going to university is something individuals, schools and families have worked on for years and it is not simply about a moderated assessment. The great shapers of modern higher education - Robbins, Dearing and Willetts - all committed to the principle that higher education should be available to all those who can benefit from it. The moderation process across the UK appears to have downgraded a bigger proportion of students from low income areas, working class families and schools in economically disadvantaged areas.
So at the University of Wolverhampton we decided that we would bring certainty to the young people seeking to study with us. We said that we will look at all the different grades a student had – predicted grades, mock exam results, calculated and moderated grades - and we will discuss those grades with the student and where appropriate offer them an opportunity to study with us.
If they choose to accept that offer we will ensure that they are fully supported in their transition into higher education and make sure that they are equipped to succeed on their chosen course. We can, we have and we will measure their “ability to benefit “ in that process and if it means that we have to provide additional support, teach a bit more maths or chemistry then we will.
We will not stand around and simply add to the uncertainty for our young people. We will provide the opportunities and certainty that this class of 2020 and their families deserve and need.
- Professor Geoff Layer is Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wolverhampton.
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