2021 Spring Term 2

The know zone

  • Effective transition
    The impact of the pandemic on lost learning for primary school pupils moving up to secondary school is a growing concern. Never has the focus on high-quality collaboration and early transition planning been so important, says ASCL Specialist Tiffnie Harris. More
  • Getting our priorities right
    ASCL Specialist Margaret Mulholland believes that Covid-19 has highlighted the stark reality of disadvantage and segregation in our education system. Now, she says, it's time to get our priorities right. More
  • Brave new world?
    As the government launches its consultation on changing the way our students apply to university, ASCL Specialist Kevin Gilmartin examines the key proposals. More
  • Defining your benefits
    ASCL Specialist Jacques Szemalikowski highlights the benefits of belonging in the Teachers' Pension Scheme. More
  • Remote teaching
    We've all had to change the way we work during this crisis, especially during lockdown. Here, ASCL members share their experience of remote teaching and working throughout the pandemic... More
  • Candid camera
    Principal Hannah Knowles says being a member of ASCL Council is a privilege and it has widened her vision of education. Here she shares her passion for Council, teaching and leading, and her dislike of... 101 Dalmatians. More
  • A time for peas
    Home schooling plus online meetings and lessons while minding three youngsters... not to mention the head injuries, disastrous baking and 'comfort breaks'. Alex Wallace opens up his lockdown diary from early last year. More
  • Remote audit
    The impact of Covid-19 has brought many challenges for academies over the last ten months, but one rarely mentioned is that faced by finance and management teams as they undertake the annual external audit remotely, says Andy Jones from Cooper Parry. More
Bookmark and Share

As the government launches its consultation on changing the way our students apply to university, ASCL Specialist Kevin Gilmartin examines the key proposals.

Brave new world?

The background

Physicist JR Oppenheimer once said, “Nobody should escape our universities without knowing how little they know.” The government has just announced a game-changing consultation (tinyurl.com/4zslez53), not on how to escape university, but how to get there in the first place. It is seeking views on whether to change the current application system to a post-qualification admission (PQA) one. The present system has undoubtedly increased in complexity in recent decades, the number of students entering university has risen rapidly and the backgrounds of applicants have become more diverse. In parallel, the higher education (HE) provider base has expanded significantly, with new providers and more courses. This evolution has resulted in an over-complex and difficult to navigate system.

Many may feel a sense of ‘déjà vu’ and indeed there have been various failed attempts to reform the system over the years. However, this feels different. The system of applying to university has remained relatively unchanged for 60 years – it is highly unlikely to survive this time around. And ASCL, for one, thinks it is about time.

What is being proposed?

The government is consulting on two models: Model 1 is a ‘post-qualification applications and offers’ model. Students would only be able to apply to university after they receive their A level or Level 3 results. Model 2 is a ‘pre-qualification applications with post-qualification offers and decisions’ model. As in Model 1, offers would still be made after results day, but applications would continue to be made beforehand (as at present).

The first model, in particular, would likely result in results day (traditionally the third Thursday in August) moving forward to the end of July. University start-of-term dates would move back to early October. This might mean exams would have to be sat earlier in the year and schools and colleges would have to set up different support arrangements for students. For universities, the processing of applications would need to be completed over a shorter period, with knock-on consequences for other application processes such as auditions, interviews or additional exams.

What might this mean in practice?

The recent rise of so-called ‘conditional unconditional’ offers and other undesirable admissions practices, for example material inducements for certain courses, has contributed to anger in many schools and colleges. Evidence shows that they can have negative impacts on academic performance as well as higher education dropout rates (see tinyurl.com/yxnnqm2l). PQA would end this practice.

Predicted grades would also be consigned to history. These predictions have become increasingly less accurate over time and the UCAS 2019 End of Cycle Report shows that 79% of individuals ended up with overpredicted grades (tinyurl.com/yfpd68me).

Perhaps of even greater jubilation to students and teachers will be the proposed scrapping of personal statements. The government refers to research that shows that the difference in the quality of personal statements between applicants from state schools and their privately educated peers is “likely to be a result of differing levels of support and guidance” rather than ability (tinyurl.com/4navw5mw). In the analysis of personal statements by applicants with identical A level results, writing errors were three times more common in state school applicants than from their independent school peers. The authors concluded that this was clearly a result of the differing support rather than ability.

The process of ‘undermatching’ may also decrease significantly. Last year, 15% of students ‘undermatched’, that is, they ended up on a course with a lower tariff than the grades they achieved. Disadvantaged students ended up being disproportionately ‘undermatched’. The government hopes that PQA would encourage disadvantaged students to make more aspirational choices.

What next?

The results of the consultation, with the government’s response, is due to be published this summer. Changes to the system would be unlikely for at least a year, so it is probably our present Year 10s or Year 11s who would be the first to apply through a new model. Meanwhile, you and your staff might want to discuss the two PQA models and either respond yourselves to the consultation online at tinyurl.com/1mte0hro or send your views through to ASCL by emailing me at kevin.gilmartin@ascl.org.uk

Surely, a simplified fairer system is now on its way?

Kevin Gilmartin
ASCL Post-16 and Colleges Specialist