From education to employment


Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust

Today (12 Aug) the @SuttonTrust has published new research on university applicants and #ALevel results

It finds that:

  • Three quarters (73%) of applicants are most worried about how the pandemic will impact their ability to take part in university social life, and two thirds are worried about the impact of little or no face to face teaching. Just over half (54%) are worried about the possibility of catching or spreading Covid-19.
  • One third (32%) say the pandemic has made them less likely to begin university this autumn, but many remain undecided before results day
  • Worries about receiving lower grades due to exam cancellations are driving concerns, with 30% saying they are less likely to get into their first-choice university as a result of the pandemic.

Responding to the Government’s announcement on A-level grades, Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said:

“This year’s grading is grossly imperfect. That’s why it isn’t possible to find a satisfactory solution.

“The Government has decided to use what they call a “triple-lock” which means students’ results  will be the highest of three different measures:  their grades predicted by their teachers; their performance in mock exams; and their performance in an optional written exam in the autumn.   

 “It’s vital that universities make greater use of contextual admissions for students who have narrowly missed out on their grades. They must recognise that students’ grades have been awarded in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

“So that young people have confidence in this year’s system, the appeals process must be fair and accessible to all. Which means fees have to be waived.

This year has highlighted the flaws in our university admissions system which is based on predicted grades. There’s never been a better time to look seriously at reform. With 85% of teacher predictions being wrong we should remove predicted grades from the system entirely by moving to a post-qualification application system.  What we mean by this is students getting their A-level results much earlier and applying to university when they know what their actual grades are.  This is much fairer and far more efficient, not least as it avoids the stress and anxiety of the clearing process.

“To all students receiving their results this week, I wish you the very best of luck. I hope you feel confident that the grades you are awarded reflect your hard work and achievements.”


  • 32% of applicants say that the pandemic has made them less likely to begin university this autumn.
  • But there is still a lot of uncertainty. 20% say their plans have changed since the pandemic or they are still unsure what to do. Just 5% say they are definitely now planning to not attend this autumn, with 6% having changed preferred university and 9% not sure. This is similar to April, but with some of the ‘unsures’ having made up their mind.
  • Of those changing their mind or uncertain, the largest group (50%) cite worries about achieving the grades to get into their first choice course. 42% are worried about the quality of education on offer this year, while other factors cited include worries about student debt (24%), health concerns (15%) and changes in their ability or willingness to move away from home (17%).
  • However, there are substantial worries among all applicants, including those still intending to take up a place. Almost three quarters (73%) are worried about being able to take part in university social life, with two thirds (67%) worried about losing face to face teaching. 62% are concerned about the cost of living at university and 54% about the potential for catching or spreading Covid-19.
  • Working class applicants were slightly more likely to be worried about moving away (36%) and cost of living (66%) than those from middle class homes. BAME students were more likely to be worried about moving away from home (42%), compared to 30% of white applicants. 
  • 34% think they are more likely to require UCAS Clearing or Adjustment due to the pandemic, linked with worries about achieving their first choice grades: 30% say the pandemic means they will be less likely to get into their first choice course. This is despite warnings about university places being undersubscribed this autumn due to a drop in international students.
  • 16% of applicants say they are less likely to live away from home during term time, including 20% from working class backgrounds, compared to 14% middle class. This is potentially concerning from a social mobility perspective, as it could reinforce existing inequalities. 


1. Applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds who have narrowly missed their offer grades should be given additional consideration. Contextualising admissions in this year’s application cycle is more important than ever, given the recent upheaval in schools and the cancellation of exams.

2. In the future, university admissions should move to Post-Qualification Applications. The unreliability of predicted grades has been acknowledged in Ofqual’s role in adjusting grades. We should take this opportunity to remove predicted grades from the system entirely by moving to a post-qualification system going forward.

3. It is vital that schools are able to offer additional support and advice to students making decisions around their future. This is particularly the case for those who are the first in their family to attend university, or those from disadvantaged backgrounds more generally. This could be done remotely if necessary.

4. Additional financial support for students is vital both to ensure access is not harmed for current university applicants from families suffering from financial stresses due to coronavirus. Universities should bolster hardship funds where possible, including increasing awareness of such funds. But government should also consider stepping in to offer emergency maintenance grants.

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