The head of Watford Grammar School for Girls said she would let girls “choose” their predicted A-level grades if other schools were “manipulating results”, official minutes show – raising questions about the role of teacher predictions in university entrance.
But head of the school, Dame Helen Hyde, then told Schools Week she “would not allow the students at the school to ‘choose’ their own (A-level) grades”.
Minutes of a governing body meeting at the school reveal that members thought universities were exerting a huge amount of pressure to get applications from A-level students with higher grades.
As a result, some schools were manipulating predictions to ensure their students made it through the first round of selection, the minutes from last September claim.
Subsequent minutes show that the head “feels that morally and professionally the school has to predict accurate grades for students and she will hold firm on this”.
She added: “I did not raise this subject. A governor told the board of governors that she thought other schools allowed students to decide or negotiate their UCAS predictions.
“I was surprised and said I would check with local schools. I did not say I would allow the girls to choose their predicted grades. I am of the personal opinion that a predicting procedure based on student preference would be neither ethical nor accurate.”
Having spoken with other schools, she said: “This appears to be an issue in which we differ from others.”
According to Dame Helen, one school allowed its students to discuss with teachers the changing of their predicted grade, “which might lead to the member of staff changing it”.
She said another school had given staff guidance to be generous in their predictions.
“The philosophy is that the students then get offers and begin to build a relationship with the university. Then if they miss a grade, they could be accepted anyway.
“In the few cases that this generous prediction is not sufficient, the head of sixth form and the deputy head have overruled the member of staff.”
In a third case, Dame Helen said a head of sixth form had adjusted predicted grades based on where the student applied and grades expected for the course.
The assistant head for post 16 at Devonport High School for Boys in Plymouth, Sharon Davidson, told Schools Week that at her school, “the UCAS predicted grade is an honest, professional judgement provided by the classroom teacher of the course”.
But Ms Davidson added that in 2014, while attending a UCAS higher education adviser day at a university, she was “dismayed to hear school representatives declare they were currently elevating their grades to ensure students for competitive courses in particular could get selected for interview”.
The examining body Cambridge Assessment revealed last summer that just under half of all predicted grades were incorrect.
Universities still maintain that despite this, schools should attempt to provide accurate predictions rather than ones favourable to pupils’ admissions chances.
Lynsey Hopkins, the head of admissions at the University of Sheffield and chair of the Russell Group Qualifications Network, said it would be worrying if schools based predicted grades on any other information: “It doesn’t serve our purposes at all to have inaccurate predictions.”
She added: “There’s a big difference between a best-case estimate to present a student favourably on the one hand, and deliberate, unfounded, prediction manipulation to secure what is likely to be an entirely unrealistic offer on the other.”