Inflated grades could make it more difficult for universities to admit 'fairly' expert warns

Inflated grades could make it more difficult for universities on admissions fairly and leave some students who have been awarded places unable “to cope”, an expert has warned, as parents and students look ahead to results day next week following 18 months of disrupted education.
File photo dated 12/10/11 of university graduates (PA/Chris Radburn)File photo dated 12/10/11 of university graduates (PA/Chris Radburn)
File photo dated 12/10/11 of university graduates (PA/Chris Radburn)

Students getting their results on Tuesday could also be competing for university places with the “overspill” candidates from last year, as some teenagers delayed moving away from home and taking on a new course amid the pandemic.

The comments from Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research (CEER) at the University of Buckingham, come ahead of the second results day next week to be held following exams cancelled by the pandemic.

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Prof Smithers said: “The early signs are that it will be another bumper year for grades, justified as compensation for all the disruption suffered.

“The danger is that the inflated grades, in other words, lower standards, will become the new norm.”

He went on: “The expansion of the A* and A grades means that a much wider range of abilities is bundled up in them, which makes it much more difficult for universities to select accurately and fairly. Some of those admitted may not be able to cope and will have wasted time and money, and some who are much more able will be missing out on when they could have done really well.”

The controversy over exams last summer meant that thousands of 18-year-olds across the country had their results downgraded from teacher predicted grades in line with an algorithm, before being quickly overturned following intense backlash from students, parents and teachers alike.

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“It could be argued that this year’s candidates will be competing for university places with the overspill from 2020, and reverting to the harder-edged 2019 grade pattern would leave them in danger of being squeezed out,“ Professor Smithers said.

The University of Hull said this year will be another “anxious” time for students and encouraged people to use the Clearing service.

Anja Hazebroek, Director of Student Recruitment and Marketing said: “We understand that this year will, once again, be a very anxious time for students and their parents, with exams cancelled for a second consecutive year and schools and colleges instead adopting Teacher-Assessed Grades.”

She told students not to panic and added: “ You are not alone. UCAS is predicting 80,000 people will go through the Clearing process this year. Please pick up the phone, get in touch with us, and find out how we can help you.”

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A spokesman for the Department for Education said speculation was “unfair on the thousands of students who have worked incredibly hard over what has been a very challenging 18 months due to the pandemic.”

They added: “Exams are the best form of assessment but in the absence of those this year, there is no one better placed to judge young people’s abilities than their teachers, who see them day-in-day-out. Teachers have assessed multiple pieces of work, in turn giving students multiple opportunities to show what they know and can do.”