A-Level Predictions Need a Face-lift: An American’s Take on Labour’s New PQA System

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Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.

I’m not a fan of the US education system. In fact, that was one of my primary reasons for moving from America to the UK for my Master’s. There are loads of things the UK is doing right when it comes to higher education. Your courses stick to relevant material, for example. Unlike back home, if you’re doing a degree in Computer Science, you’re not required to take a random Religious Studies class alongside that. Also, you do not have to waste loads of your time and credits on taking three years of a foreign language when you could be, you know… doing the thing you came to university for in the first place? Furthermore, unlike back home, the British university system seems to actually care about student mental health. Except when it comes to one critically important thing: the application process.

As an international student and advocate for student mental health, it’s shocking to see my Facebook feed flooded with anxiety about A-Level results from every corner of the internet. From universities attempting to destigmatise the shame of not getting the grades you wanted, to Student Minds providing mental health resources for disappointed students, the detrimental effect of the current A-Levels results system is well documented. And while it’s excellent that a number of organisations are making an effort to diminish that stress through positive outreach, arguably the best solution is to overhaul the system entirely. That’s what the Labour party is currently considering, and it’s a plan which I support wholeheartedly.

If the widespread threat to student mental health isn’t enough to warrant reform, systemic discrimination should be. Writing for LabourList, James F. Kelly has observed that:

According to social mobility charity The Sutton Trust, poorer students are more likely to have their grades under-predicted, which means the most ambitious and best-informed applicants from high-achieving schools are effectively given preferential treatment under present rules.

This suspicion is corroborated by research conducted through the UCL Institute of Education. This discovered that one in four disadvantaged students who went on to achieve grades of ‘AAB’ or better, received predicted grades lower than their ultimate A-Level results. Likewise, a similar study conducted by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills in 2011 reported that black students were least likely to have their grades accurately predicted.

These findings have prompted Angela Rayner, the Shadow Education Secretary, to propose a Labour government geared toward revolutionising the current A-Level system and cultivating a new “PQA” system, which stands for “Post-Qualification Admissions.” Under a PQA system, students would apply for positions in higher education only after receiving their A-Level results. After having grown up in a country whose universities already operate under this system, I feel that converting to a PQA standard of admissions is the only possible answer. Applying to university is stressful. Already, the entire process invites students to measure their self-worth in terms of their academic performance and the future predicted by their grades. Having your grades predicted—a measurement which can be affected by teacher bias, racial profiling, and other forms of discrimination—only causes additional damage which is sure to outweigh any benefit.

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