Students in private schools risk ‘rejecting’ state students in race for university places, experts warn


Poorer students are more likely than ever to miss top college courses, experts have warned, as this year’s A-level results widen the gap between private and public schools.

The proportion of A-level students with the best grades has reached an all-time high, with almost half getting an A or higher, after exams were canceled and grades determined by teachers.

But data from the regulator Ofqual showed that the increase in A grades was 50% higher in independent schools than in full high schools – raising concerns that this is combining with the record number of university applications to “make matters worse.” »Inequalities in the education system.

The data also shows that black students, those with free school meals, and those living in severely disadvantaged areas were all less likely to achieve top A or A * grades than their more advantaged peers.

The relative success of private schools means that students in public schools who are still trying to find a place in college in the coming weeks could be “rejected”, experts have warned.

Dr Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, said he feared many students from low-income backgrounds would lose out in the fierce battle for places – including the best Russell Group and Oxbridge “selective” university courses.

“It is deeply concerning to see the socio-economic gaps widening in this year’s A-level results, confirming our worst fears – the pandemic has exacerbated the educational inequalities that already existed,” said Dr Elliot Major. The independent.

“In view of the results, my concern is that some disadvantaged students do not enter the most prestigious courses, and are jostled by those from privileged backgrounds. I’m also worried if some [disadvantaged students] those who did not obtain the expected marks get a place at the university.

The gap between the most privileged and the least privileged students to obtain university places has widened, according to data shared by Ucas on Tuesday. The admissions body acknowledged that the lack of progress in opening higher education to all was “disappointing”.

Ucas said a record number of students have secured a place in their premier university course, up 8% from last year. Data shows that 20.7% of all 18-year-olds from the UK’s most disadvantaged backgrounds have secured an undergraduate place, up to 2% last year.

However, the more privileged students are much more successful than before in securing places at the university. Some 48.4 percent of the wealthiest backgrounds got an undergraduate spot this year, up 6 percent from last year.

Carl Cullinane, head of research at the Sutton Trust Education Think Tank, said there is a danger that students in independent schools will “stray” from those in public schools. “The growing gaps in top marks have obvious implications for admissions to selective universities and the widening of participation,” he said. The independent.

“We are concerned that this will have an impact on admissions of disadvantaged students. The race for places will be fiercest in the most selective universities. Applications to these universities have exploded this year, so they are much more competitive than usual.

The proportion of A-level entrants with an A grade or higher reached an all-time high after students received grades determined by teachers, rather than by examinations. In total, more than two in five British applicants (44.8%) received an A or A * rating, up 6.3 percentage points from last year.

Although teachers ‘unions have hailed students’ success in the face of the Covid disruption – dismissing concerns about ‘grade inflation’, experts fear that students from less privileged backgrounds could benefit from the record results of this year.

Private schools have seen an absolute increase in A or A * grades of 9.3% this year, compared to 6.2% among high school students. The gap between black applicants, free school meals, and applicants with very high deprivation and others in obtaining A grades widened from 1.43, 1.42 and 1.39 percent respectively.

Labor MK Kate Green, fictitious education secretary, said the government’s ‘chaotic’ last-minute decision on exams and assessment over the past year had “opened the door to injustice “.

Research from the Sutton Trust found that independent fee-based schools are more likely than public schools to use a wider variety of assessments, including pre-access to questions and “open book” tests, which allow students to refer to the course notes.

Parental pressure is also more prevalent in private schools, research shows. According to the Sutton Trust, 23% of parents in private schools said parents approached or pressured their child’s grades this year, compared to just 11% in poorer public schools.

Many students have spent much of this year unable to study effectively due to lack of appropriate devices, internet access, or acceptable space to study – factors not taken into account when considering evaluation of this year’s results.

Despite the fact that Sam Tuckett, senior researcher at the Education Policy Institute, said the impact of the achievement gap would likely be felt among those trying to get places in the most popular courses at universities across the country. Russell Group.

A recent analysis showed that just over two-thirds of applications to selective universities resulted in offers in July, up from nearly three-quarters at the same stage last year. And the number of compensation courses at selective universities has declined by a third, from 4,500 last year to just 3,000 this year.

“We can see some universities unable to offer places to students who have just missed the expected grades – especially when it comes to courses in high demand at selective universities,” Tuckett said.

“The compensation process could be even more competitive. Level A results suggest that if you come from a disadvantaged background your grades will not have increased as much since last year on average – so you may be more likely to apply to college through compensation. .

It comes as educators and activists have expressed concerns that basing this year’s A-level results on teachers’ predictions rather than exams has put black students at a disadvantage.

Research shows that the gaps indicating lower scores in 2020 for black African, black Caribbean and mixed whites compared to their white British counterparts increased from 1.85 to 2.97 percentage points in 2021.

Lavinya Stennett, CEO and Founder of Social Enterprise The Black Curriculum, said, “This form of assessment leaves room for teacher bias in determining a student’s worth. For black students in particular, grades will be predicted based on assumed abilities, arising from generalized characteristics of their ethnicity and socio-economic background. “

Meanwhile, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson joined teachers’ unions who have championed this year’s results amid concerns over grade inflation, calling on people to celebrate the success of young people during ‘a difficult year.

But influential Tory MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the House of Commons Education Committee, suggested grade inflation was so “ingrained” in the system that it could cause even more admissions problems. to universities in the years to come.

He told BBC Radio 4 World in one: “I think in the long run, due to the huge increase in Aces and A *, we need to review our exam system in general. “

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