Shenfield headteacher calls for clarification for next year’s exam takers

A headteacher has agreed that next year’s A-level school leavers need clarification as the fallout from the A-level U-turn continues.

Moreover the focus is now shifting to two areas – students who may have missed out on competitive places such as medicine because of downgrades due to the algorithm but may now meet the entrance qualification, and the pressure on students taking A-levels next year who may face competition from this year’s cohort who generally left school with higher grades and may be deferring to start next year.

The decision to give A-level students grades estimated by their teachers means thousands may now have the grades to trade up to their first-choice university offers or even apply for more competitive courses.

It is not clear how this will affect students about to start their final year of school.

University courses may well be able to manage the increased demand for high tariff courses, particularly if there is a relaxation of the cap on growth, but some such as Anglia Ruskin University’s medical school have said the course has already been filled.

The government is looking at lifting the cap on the number of places to study medicine, to allow all the students with the grades to get in, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

But the government has not said what this might mean for next year’s prospective medical students about to start their final year of school.

A spokesman for the university said: “At ARU we recognise that students and their loved ones have found the last few days incredibly confusing and stressful. We are keen to help ease this difficult situation as much as we can and give all applicants a fair chance of studying with us.

“We are being as flexible as we possibly can for prospective applicants. If you’re looking to apply to ARU, please get in touch and have as much information as possible to hand, including centre-assessed grades, calculate grades and mock A-level grades. Our decision will be based on the highest of these grades in each subject.

“We would like to assure applicants who already have a place at ARU, that this is secure. Some of our courses, for example Medicine, are now full for September because they are restricted by Government regulations or the availability of professional placements, and in such cases we are awaiting Government guidance and working hard to find solutions. There are however still places available on other programmes.”

Carole Herman, head teacher of Shenfield High School, said her school saw a range of emotions from students last Thursday (August 15) – some who had not received what they expected.

She said: “We saw a wide range, some did very well and got what they were predicted and have gone to the university of their choice, and there have been other stories where  we had lots of discussions – but things are so fresh and so new we are day by day doing the best  for the young people who have concerns.

“What we are all saying is this is not just an issue for Year 13 and Year 11 now. It is going to be an issue for next year’s Year 13 and next year’s Year 11.”

She added: “The next piece of thinking that needs to be done by the government and Ofqual and  by schools is that actually we don’t know yet what next year’s exams are going to look like for the youngsters in Year 10 who next year will be in Year 11 doing GCSEs and the youngsters in Year 12 who next year will be doing A-levels.

“We have got to have some clarification from Ofqual and the exam boards over what those exams are going to look like, bearing in mind the experience of this year with the fact we were entirely reliant on terminal exams, which has given us such a great difficulty.

“We don’t know yet what the pandemic is going to bring  and we all need to be considering and what Ofqual and the government need to be advising schools is how we can be ready for unforeseen circumstances.

“Such as if there is a local lockdown or anything like that we have got to make sure we are ready.”

She added it was too early to make a judgement on how next year’s leavers will be affected.

She said: “We don’t yet know the percentage of students who will defer because of the U-turn and use their higher grades next year to go through UCAS or whether because of the expansion of numbers, the universities are going to be able to take more students and then students will get places in their first or second places or through clearing.

“To be honest a day is a long time in education and at the moment things are changing very quickly. We are not quite in a position yet to know what this Year 13 will end up doing.

“It is worth allowing things to settle a bit.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter