How the U-turn on A level results has impacted university applications - and what to do if your grades have gone up

Pupils can be awarded their school or college estimated grade (Photo: Shutterstock)Pupils can be awarded their school or college estimated grade (Photo: Shutterstock)
Pupils can be awarded their school or college estimated grade (Photo: Shutterstock)

Thousands of students have been faced with difficulties in securing a place at their chosen university after the government’s disastrous handling of A level results.

University admissions have descended into chaos after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced on Monday (17 August) that last week's results are now being scrapped in favour of centre assessed grades (CAGs) submitted by schools earlier in the year.

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How has the U-turn affected university applications?

The government has agreed that pupils can be awarded their school or college estimated grade, or the moderated grade from exam regulator Ofqual - whichever is the highest.

The decision to allow pupils to accept either of these results came after thousands were downgraded by the government’s algorithm, causing many to lose out on places at their first-choice university.

Almost 40 per cent of all A level results were downgraded after the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation used an algorithm based largely on schools’ previous results.

The system results in schools in more disadvantaged areas being penalised, while those in private schools benefitted.

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Pupils who did miss out on their chosen university will be seeking to secure their place now that they have the grades to meet the admissions criteria.

However, the sudden change from the government has put added pressure on the University and College Admissions Service (UCAS), with vice-chancellors warning they would not be able to honour all of their original offers.

What happens if my grades have gone up?

UCAS has said that just under 70 per cent of applicants across the UK were already placed with their first-choice university, while others were forced to accept their ‘insurance’ offer, or secure a place through clearing.

Those who did not receive their first choice will now be entitled to try and improve their options.

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The government has said it will remove temporary student number controls, which were introduced this year to stop over-recruitment due to coronavirus, in an effort to allow more pupils to progress.

Ministers have also appealed to universities to be as flexible as possible when admitting pupils onto courses, stating that they expect institutions to honour all offers that were made.

However, some universities have already voiced concerns about a lack of capacity, staffing, accommodation and facilities if numbers increase, particularly with social distancing requirements.

Pupils who have now secured their first-choice following the U-turn announcement on Monday (17 August) may instead be asked to defer their place by a year if there is no space left on their preferred course.

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The government has said that pupils who have already accepted an offer will be able to release this if they have a different offer, such as their first-choice, reinstated.

UCAS has advised pupils who did not get into their first-choice institution to first seek advice from their teachers and parents before contacting the university.

A spokesman said: “Once your university has your centre-assessed grades via exam bodies, they can make a decision as to whether there is a place at your preferred choice.”

Can I still appeal my grades on the basis of mock exams?

Mr Williamson previously pledged that pupils could use the highest result out of their calculated grade from exam boards, their mock exams, or sit the actual exam in the autumn.

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However, following the decision to allow teachers’ grades to be used instead, the Education Secretary has said that mock exam results will not be a key part of the appeals process for A level and GCSE students in England.

Students who are unhappy with both their calculated grade and centre assessment grade will still be able to sit exams in the autumn.

Further details and guidance on how appeals can be processed have still not been published.

The UCAS deadline for applicants to meet their offer conditions is September 7, leaving exam boards only a matter of weeks to issue the outcome of appeals.