Labour pledges to ditch predicted grades from university admissions

Labour has pledged to scrap university offers based on predicted grades under a major admissions overhaul.

Instead, if the party wins power, pupils would apply for university after getting their results under a new post-qualification admissions (PQA) system.

Labour said using predicted grades to dish out university offers is unreliable and unfairly penalises disadvantaged pupils and those from minority backgrounds.

But previous attempts to move to a PQA system have failed after opposition from the sector.

Young people need their teachers’ support when making application choices, this isn’t readily available when schools are closed during August.

UCAS, the organisation that co-ordinates degree applications, warned in 2012 that difficulties caused by such a change were “insurmountable”.

They said A-level exams would have to be sat earlier in the year, with university start dates also pushed back. School admissions staff would also have to work through the summer to help pupils under a PQA system, the organisation warned.

Labour hasn’t addressed those issues in its announcement today. But shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said they will work with schools, colleges, and universities to “design and implement the new system, and continue to develop our plans to make higher education genuinely accessible to all”.

She said the current system “isn’t working” and “radical action is needed to change that”.

Labour pointed to analysis by UCL’s Institute of Education that found nearly a quarter of disadvantaged students who go on to achieve AAB or better in A-Level have predicted grades lower than their final results.

The Sutton Trust has also warned poorer students are more likely to have their grades under-predicted than their wealthier peers, meaning they are less likely to apply to the most selective institutions.

Rayner pledged to deliver the reform by the end of a Labour government’s first term in office, adding: “We will put students at the heart of the system, making it fairer, more accurate, and a genuine vehicle for social justice.”

Schools reportedly opposed the previous plans to introduce PQA in 2012 as it would mean providing pupils with additional admission support and guidance over summer holidays. UCAS said this would worsen barriers for disadvantaged pupils.

Universities were also against the plans, warning the costs and major upheaval for schools outweighed the benefits.

The proposals were ditched after a review by UCAS found they weren’t feasible.

Clare Marchant, UCAS chief executive, said today while a post-results admissions service has a “natural appeal”, it would be “likely to significantly disadvantage underrepresented and disabled students” unless secondary school or university calendars were changed.

“Young people need their teachers’ support when making application choices, and this isn’t readily available to all at the scale required when schools and colleges are closed during August.”

Mary Curnock Cook (pictured), UCAS chief executive at the time of the 2012 review, told Schools Week Labour would need to “pull some major system changes out of the hat to ensure that it doesn’t become just one big clearing process over a few short weeks in the summer holidays”.

She said having the “choice of applying early and getting a motivational conditional offer, or applying post-qualifications in what is now a very professional clearing system, is the best of both worlds”.

But Labour said the plans would also curb the huge rise in unconditional offers.

The party said that PQAs are the “norm” across the world, with England’s reliance on predicted grades an “international outlier”.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Last year there were a record rates of 18 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university, which is up more than 50 per cent from ten years ago.

“Universities must ensure their admissions practices are fair, to ensure everyone can access higher education, or they will face action. The Office for Students and Universities UK are already undertaking a review of university admissions to look at how well current practices serve students and we urge all groups to support them to see how they can be improved.”