University admissions overhaul looks set to fail

The government’s plan to reform England’s university admissions system is yet another example of providing window-dressing rather than changes that will have effective outcomes (Ministers may move university applications to after A-level results, 26 June). If the aim really is to “improve social mobility and help disadvantaged school-leavers”, why is there no insistence that all state-funded UK universities take contextual information into consideration, so that pupils with real potential are given the opportunity to excel?

In many instances, pupils from underprivileged backgrounds, or underfunded state schools suffering staffing recruitment problems, or possibly from both, who achieve Bs and Cs at A-level often display more intellectual ability than their more privileged peers gaining As.

If this plan had serious intentions, it would also insist that the only academic qualifications acceptable as university entrance qualifications were A-levels, the exams described by Ofqual as “national qualifications based on content set by the government”. What was the point of reforming A-levels and ensuring a high level of regulation if private schools are able to avoid them, and get their pupils into university via different means? More lightly regulated exams such as Cambridge Assessment’s Pre-U have a higher proportion of A*/A grades than A-levels, and are mostly set and marked by private-sector teachers.
Bernie Evans

Debate about university admissions timing is perennial; 2020 offers the best opportunity yet for it to bear fruit. But how to use any interval (Letters, 29 June)? You could try to perfect a foreign language (although few students now have foreign language skills), but that time should be used more generally to prepare for university. Even before the pandemic, the academic gap between school and university was widening. Universities have offered online courses and on-site resources to mitigate this.

Now, during lockdown, further work has been done in a short time here, and by universities countrywide, to create even more courses and offer one-to-one support virtually. At the same time, many school students have slipped further behind. Why not use the autumn after A-levels to develop the skills needed at university and, later, in the world of work? This could also reduce the current low-level anxiety experienced by many incoming students.
Dr Margaret Coombe
Director, Oxford Study Skills Centre

Any scientist will tell you that accuracy is an essential part of measurement, alongside precision and reliability. Your education editor repeats the oft-heard assertion that “teacher grade predictions are notoriously inaccurate”, which is true. It is rarely stated that August’s external exam results are an inaccurate, unreliable and imprecise measurement of candidates’ learning capabilities and their acquisition of knowledge, understanding and skills – especially creativity and research skills. I am certain of the truth of this statement after gathering evidence during more than 40 years of teaching and assessing sixth-formers in state-funded comprehensive schools in England, across all award bodies.

The pandemic has provided an opportunity to pause and address the vital questions about what education is for and how we ensure that every individual has access to the education that they need; the “radical plan to overhaul university admissions” fails to address either.
Nic Howes

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