Back in school I remember it was common knowledge that predicted grades were often inaccurate. I also remember several teachers being very resistant to adjusting them, if they didn’t reflect your current level of work.
Now new data revealed by OCR shows that only 48% of predicted grades were correct for A-Level students. Yet it is these target grades that are used to determine which university and course students should apply for.
It’s clear that something needs to change. The first issue to address is the inaccuracy of target grades. If students are being set target grades that are either too high or too low for them, schools risk jeopardising their students’ futures. Target grades that are too low may lead a student to underestimate their academic abilities, which can damage their confidence and prevent them from applying to universities that they are capable of getting into – or put them off applying at all. And very few students whose results exceed their expectations opt to go through the adjustment process. Equally, being predicted unrealistically high grades gives students false expectations, which may cause them to apply for universities that they simply won’t get into.
Either way, incorrect target grades not only cause a great deal of stress, confusion and uncertainty, that students could quite simply do without but they can also directly impact students’ futures. Of course, universities look at criteria other than grades when considering whether to accept a university application, but meeting the expected grades is still important and can make the difference between an acceptance and a rejection.
The second issue to address is the fact that, even when results day arrives and students finally find out whether they’ve met their targets, thousands are still left waiting to find out whether they’ve got in to their chosen university. Many are forced to wait for days, unsure about what best to do, whilst universities take their time letting students know whether they want them or not. This is very unfair on students, after all of the anticipation and nerves following up to results day. On results day students expect to know what they’ll be doing for the following year but this is not always the reality. And this problem is tied into the fact that conditional university offers are based on predicted grades, which clearly don’t reflect the results A-Level students are receiving on results day.
Mr Rammell, vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire has argued that we should move to a system in which students make a ‘post-qualification application‘ to university, instead of having to rely on untrustworthy predicted grades in order to receive conditional offers. This argument seems logical and convincing. It would mean that students would be able to apply to a university that’s right for them, knowing that they have the required grades to get in. Although they would have to wait longer to know which university they’ll be attending in September, at least they will be prepared for this prospect. Indeed, Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, has said that the clearing process should not be viewed as the ‘second-best option’.
Understandably, many students are reluctant to wait and apply through clearing because they want to apply the ‘normal way‘, which seems to allow them to decide in advance which university they’ll be attending in September. Yet so many students are thrown by their grades on results day, and are still reluctant to go through clearing or adjustment. Evidently, the way predicted grades are calculated needs to change, as well as the way in which students apply for university. To improve the process for next year, information about the clearing and adjustment process needs to be made more widely available to all students in advance, even if they don’t think they’ll need it, and teachers need to up their game when it comes to predicting results. Students applying for university need to be informed, supported and made aware of all the options available to them.