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Education unions set out concerns to Gavin Williamson after exam results fiasco

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Education unions @ucu and @nusuk set out concerns to Gavin Williamson after exam results fiasco

The government must step in to support students who have missed out on their first-choice courses and provide financial protections for the higher education sector to protect jobs, the University and College Union (UCU) and National Union of Students (NUS) said today (Tuesday).

UCU and NUS have written to Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson today to set out the concerns of students and staff in schools, further education colleges and universities, following the government’s dramatic U-turn yesterday confirming that centre-assessed grades would be used for A-levels and GCSEs.

After the original grading system led to widespread unfairness, the unions have urged the government to extend the use of centre-assessed grades to BTECs and other affected qualifications, and to share details of the equality impact assessment that was conducted as part of the original approach to grading. 

They also raised concerns about the removal of the student number cap for universities, and called on the government to provide financial support to the sector so that universities are able to safely welcome students next term and continue to provide world class teaching and research.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Staff are now facing unbearable workloads dealing with the government’s exam results fiasco, after already facing cuts and threats of redundancies due to its incompetence during lockdown. Removing the student number cap means certain universities can hoover up students hitting the finances of other institutions. It now needs to provide substantial financial support to the sector so that universities can protect all jobs, safely welcome students and continue to provide world class teaching and research.’

NUS president Larissa Kennedy said: ‘Yesterday’s U-turn will not redress the harm that is done to students every year in every postcode by this racist, classist and ableist assessment system. The government must commit to overhaul the exam and grading system for good so that every student has a fair chance to succeed.

‘There are still many questions to be answered around how university admissions will work this year and how BTEC students and private candidates will be assessed. But this week has highlighted the power that staff and students have when we come together. We will continue to fight for #JusticeForEducation and an end to educational injustice once and for all.’

Jo Grady and Larissa Kennedy have offered to meet with Mr Williamson so he can hear first-hand how the fiasco had affected students and staff.

Poll shows school, college and university leaders want to reform university admissions

11 August 2020: More than four in five of the 128 university, school and college leaders who responded to a survey from UCU want to explore a radical overhaul of the university admissions system, according to Higher education admissions: The time for change, a report published by UCU and the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON).

  • Poll shows that over 80% of school, college and university leaders want to explore allowing students to apply after their results are known*
  • 60% say current university admissions system not fit for purpose
  • Three-fifths say the government isn’t doing enough to support fair admissions to higher education

The survey of university vice-chancellors, college principals and secondary school heads found that 60% of respondents felt the current system is not fit for purpose, with 83% supporting the exploration of a post-qualifications admissions (PQA) system, where students would apply to university after their results.

Three out of five leaders also thought that the government does not do enough to support a university fair admissions system.

The report comes ahead of students receiving their A-level results on Thursday. Concerns have already been raised that disadvantaged students will be unfairly penalised this year under the system devised to awards marks.

UCU said it wanted to see students apply to university after they receive their results as that would be fairer for students, eradicate the need for controversial unconditional offers and bring the whole of the UK into line with the rest of the world when it comes to university admissions.

A survey of recent university applicants found that over half (56%) felt universities should only make offers after people receive their results. Support for students applying after they get their results was highest amongst traditionally hard to reach groups such as black and minority ethnic students, and those who were the first in their family to go to university. Previous research shows that the current system is more likely to predict lower grades to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In June the Guardian reported that the government was modelling how to change to a PQA system after recognising that the current system harms social mobility and disadvantages BAME students.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

‘Thousands of A-level students are receiving their results this week, but the current university admissions system, based on inaccurately predicted results means students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to lose out. Black and minority ethnic students, and those who were the first in their family to go to university want to see it changed. This report shows that many sector leaders agree that the time has come move away from the current system.

‘Allowing students to apply after they receive their results would help level the playing field for disadvantaged students, remove the problems associated with unconditional offers and end the chaotic clearing scramble. The government now needs to publish its modelling and work with the education sector to move to a new system.’

NEON director Dr Graeme Atherton said:

‘This report shows there is cross-sector support for reform to the university admission system. It is essential that we now develop a system that unites schools, colleges and universities and places the needs of students first. The report presents evidence showing educational leaders support a new system that enables rather than prevents students from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education.’

*The results are based on an electronic survey circulated to university vice-chancellors and secondary school head teachers across the United Kingdom and college principals in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. The survey received 128 responses. Of the respondents 43% came from the higher education sector (a higher education institution or higher education in a further education college), 32% came from secondary schools, and 25% came from the further education or sixth form college sector.

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