Universities should take widening participation into account when giving discretionary acceptances to applicants this summer, says the Sutton Trust.
In new research published today, the social mobility charity surveys both university applicants and teachers to examine the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on university admissions – and raises concerns over consistency and fairness in teacher-assessed grades, stating that “when stakes are high, it is often the schools and parents with the greatest resources and ‘savvy’ that are most adept at navigating these complex waters.”
Sutton Trust findings
A survey of 3,221 teachers found that a significant minority have been “approached or pressured” by parents about their child’s grades – 23 per cent of teachers at private schools, compared to 14 per cent of those working in a state school.
Today’s research also highlights considerable discrepancies between the type and amount of assessments being carried out by A-level pupils to help teachers decide their grades. Some schools have given pupils three to four mini assessments per subject, others two or fewer; and some have provided questions in advance, or allowed ‘open book’ tests, while others imposed exam conditions.
The A-level attainment gap between disadvantaged students and their classmates has remained steady on average, although the gap at the highest grades (A and over) has widened slightly by two percentage points.
The most selective universities have reduced their offer rate by six percentage points from last year in the face of soaring application rates and expected grade inflation.
Almost half (47 per cent) of the 463 applicants surveyed – and 56 per cent of Russell Group applicants – thought that the pandemic disruption would negatively impact their chance of getting into their first-choice university.
A majority (53 per cent) are worried about being ready to start university this autumn, and a third (34 per cent) feel unprepared to do so. Those from a state school are more than twice as likely to feel unprepared than their independent school peers.
Universities should give additional consideration to disadvantaged students who have just missed out on their offer grades – Sir Peter Lampl, Sutton Trust
Advice to universities
In light of today’s report, the Sutton Trust makes a series of recommendations to the higher education sector:
- Universities should give additional consideration to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds who have narrowly missed their offer grades, as they have faced additional challenges during the pandemic which may not have been taken into account in their grades. The Sutton Trust tells admissions teams: “Widening participation should be a key factor taken into account when universities are giving discretionary acceptances to those who have missed their offers”.
- Universities should provide additional wellbeing and mental health support for this autumn’s cohort as they transition to higher education, including “stronger support around developing friendships, connections and taking part in university social life”.
- Universities should clearly communicate with the new cohort to manage expectations “on the university environment and blended learning, particularly if some restrictions will continue”.
- Universities should anticipate and identify key gaps in learning and skills at an early stage in the first term, and provide support if necessary.
Come results day every pupil must be supported to progress with their education, training or employment, not just the most privileged – Kate Green MP
In the report, The Sutton Trust also confirms its endorsement of post-qualification admissions.
“This year’s cohort of university applicants have faced almost two years of disrupted education,” said Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chair of the Sutton Trust and chair of the Education Endowment Foundation.
“As we approach results day, it’s vital that poorer students are not disadvantaged by the greater impact of the pandemic on them.
“Universities should give additional consideration to disadvantaged students who have just missed out on their offer grades.
“The government’s consultation on university admissions is a positive step forward. The Trust recommends moving to a system of post-qualification applications where students apply to university with their grades in hand. This should prevent low-income students from being disadvantaged and make the system fairer for everyone.”
Today’s research is based on a YouthSight survey of 960 young people across Great Britain who applied to university this year through Ucas, and a Teacher Tapp survey of 3,221 teachers in schools across England who reported that they were teaching a GCSE or A-level exam class.
Kate Green MP, Labour’s shadow education secretary, accused the government of causing “havoc” with last year’s results and said the Sutton Trust research showed it had “failed to learn from their mistakes and get a system in place which carries public confidence and is fair to all pupils.
“Come results day every pupil must be supported to progress with their education, training or employment, not just the most privileged.
“The Conservatives have treated children and young people as an afterthought throughout this pandemic. Ministers must now urgently set out the support that will be available to pupils, parents and teachers on results day to ensure no young person loses out on future opportunities due to their failed pandemic response.”
You might also like: Teacher-assessed grades unfair, suggests poll of parents