Universities told to be more flexible about pupils’ A-level results

The Guardian is reporting that England’s higher education regulator has called on universities to look beyond exam results when admitting students and radically “rethink how they are judging merit”, as part of a push to increase their intake from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Office for Students is to tell universities they should take “much stronger account of the context in which exam results are achieved”, suggesting that universities demanding high A-level tariffs need to be more flexible and even lower entry grades across the board if they want to widen participation and improve access.

“Fair access is often caricatured as a zero-sum game: poorer kids denying places to richer kids with better A-levels. But to see it in those terms is to miss the point,” said Sir Michael Barber, the OfS’s chair.

“A young person from a council estate who gets decent A-levels has often had to work a lot harder than the young person from a better-off neighbourhood who gets a few grades more. That’s why it is right that contextual admissions are now an increasing part of the picture.”

The education secretary, Damian Hinds, supported contextual admissions. 

“I want institutions to consider a broad range of information in their offers, including the context in which a student’s results were achieved.”

But the OfS paper, published on Wednesday, argues that contextual admissions do not go far enough. It suggests instead that lowering A-level entry requirements can broaden the pool of applicants to selective courses while not affecting academic standards.

Stephen Gorard, a professor of education and public policy at Durham University, said the OfS’s policies were “well meaning” but urged the regulator and the government to drop the use of area-based measures of access.

Instead, Gorard would allow universities to use England’s national pupil database in the admissions process, to make contextual offers more accurate.

Read the full article Universities told to be more flexible about pupils’ A-level results

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