Hold places for appealing A-level students, minister tells universities

Universities should hold places for pupils who choose to appeal against their A-level grades, the government has said.

In a further sign the government is gearing up for an outcry over standardised grades similar to that seen in Scotland last week, universities minister Michelle Donelan has written to university vice-chancellors to urge them to be “as flexible as possible in their admissions”.

It comes as schools prepare for a deluge of requests to challenge final A-level grades issued by exam boards on Thursday, amid concerns that the system of standardised centre-assessment grades this year could scupper some pupils’ chances of going to the university of their choice.

Although Ofqual has sought to reassure students that results will actually be slightly better overall this year, its admission that exam boards have had to haul down grades by as much as 12 percentage points has prompted fears of a repeat of the problems seen in Scotland, which have disproportionately affected poorer pupils.

Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, apologised to pupils north of the border yesterday, and said her government would set out plans to remedy the situation later today.

In her letter to universities, Donelan urged vice chancellors to hold places for students appealing their grades until they receive the outcome of the appeal, “where possible”, and confirmed that pupils who successfully appeal won’t count towards number controls imposed on certain institutions.

The exemption will apply to those whose grades are increased on appeal to meet the conditions of a university offer, and whose places are confirmed as a result, the Department for Education said.

“Nobody should have to put their future on hold because of this virus,” said Donelan today. “That is why I am urging universities to be as flexible as possible in their admissions and to hold places for those whose grades are being appealed.

“Our ambition for students this year is no different to any other year and it is in everybody’s interest to see them progress.”