Students are waking up to their A-level results amid last-minute changes to appeals, with around one in four entries expected to be awarded the top grades.
The Government announced late on Tuesday that students in England will have the “safety net” of being able to use mock exam results as the basis for an appeal if they are higher than the calculated grade.
It came hours after Scotland’s Education Secretary announced that moderated calculated grades would be scrapped following an outcry after more than 124,000 results were downgraded.
School and university leaders have demanded clarity from ministers on how the appeals process in England will work and whether it will be completed in time for universities opening in the autumn.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said teachers are likely to face questions from “disgruntled” students over appeals on Thursday which they will struggle to answer due to the last-minute announcement and lack of detail about how the process will work.
The Ucas deadline for applicants to meet their academic offer conditions is September 7, which leaves exam boards less than four weeks to issue outcomes of appeals from schools and colleges.
Some universities are concerned that students may not be given enough time to secure a final grade ahead of the start of term in autumn.
The University of the West England (UWE) in Bristol told the PA news agency that any delays would cause “uncertainty around final student numbers”, which could in turn affect timetabling and placements.
Ministers have urged universities to be “flexible” and take into account a range of evidence when choosing which youngsters to admit to their degree courses on Thursday in the wake of coronavirus.
But the head of Ucas has suggested it will be a “good year” for youngsters in Britain who want to attend university in the autumn as institutions will be competing to fill courses at a time of uncertainty.
A potential fall in overseas students amid Covid-19 – alongside a drop in 18-year-olds in the population – could help school leavers in the UK secure a place, Clare Marchant, Ucas’ chief executive, has suggested.
Professor Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK (UUK), told students that universities will be as flexible as they can and urged students to look at the courses available in clearing.
Clearing is increasingly becoming a popular route for students to find a degree course, with leading universities among those to offer last-minute places through the system.
A PA analysis shows that, as of Wednesday afternoon, there were 24,970 courses with availability across 146 UK universities and colleges for applicants living in England.
Of the 24 Russell Group universities, nearly three in four (17 universities) have at least one course advertised on the clearing site, with 4,485 courses potentially available.
Rachel Hewitt, director of policy and advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), believes university admissions officers and Ucas will receive more calls from students “than ever before” following the last-minute decision to allow English students to use mock grades if they appeal.
She told PA: “It may well be that this change pushes more students to seek to appeal their grades, leaving universities to consider how to manage their places between those who achieve the grades, clearing and those seeking to appeal.
“The reintroduction of the numbers cap for this year has further complicated this by restricting the places that universities have to give.”
On the changes to appeals, Mr Barton said: “Young people are going to come in to get their grades – many of whom we hope will be delighted, some of whom will be disappointed.
“Some will be perhaps deeply disgruntled and will say ‘so that appeal process using my mock exam, how does that work Miss?’ and Miss isn’t going to be able to reply unless we hear pretty urgently about it.
“I think there will be a sense from school leaders of us being put in a position of being on the back foot. I think there will be very deep frustration around that on a day which is always emotionally highly charged, but it’s likely to be more so because of this announcement.”
Last year, 25.5% of UK entries were awarded an A or A* grades, the lowest proportion since 2007, according to statistics published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).
England’s exams regulator Ofqual previously said that the national results are likely to be higher this summer than previous years following disruption.
Teachers were told to submit the grades they thought each student would have received if they had sat the papers after exams were cancelled. Exam boards have moderated these grades to ensure this year’s results are not significantly higher than previous years.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Grades awarded today will open up the doors of opportunity for young people to progress to the next stage of their lives, whether studying at one of our world-class universities, taking up an apprenticeship or embarking on the start of their careers.
“Any students who feel they have grounds for appeal now have the safety net of being able to use their mock results as evidence, as well as the chance of sitting autumn exams, thanks to our triple lock process to ensure confidence and fairness in the system.”
He added: “The resilience they have shown during these challenging times will serve them well and I wish them all the very best for the future.”
Published: 13/08/2020 by Radio NewsHub