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Government tells universities to ‘prioritise disadvantaged pupils’ amid A-level grade chaos 

The Government is asking universities to prioritise students from disadvantaged backgrounds for admission ‘where possible’ following the U-turn on A-level grades – meaning Middle-Class pupils may be forced to take gap years. 

Universities minister Michelle Donelan wrote to vice-chancellors requesting their flexibility around admissions and asking them to honour all offers accepted.

She wrote that once admissions capacity is reached and additional places cannot be provided then institutions should ‘where possible try to prioritise those from disadvantaged backgrounds for admission this year’.

She added that providers should see if a student ‘would like a suitable alternative course or offer a deferred place’. 

The head of an independent education think tank said prioritising one group over another may not be easy.

The Higher Education Policy Institute’s Nick Hillman told The Times: ‘If I was a vice-chancellor, or running admissions, I would worry that the wording is open to all sort of challenges, even legal ones.

‘Do they have sufficiently robust information to make that fine judgment? Is it based on parents’ salaries, or ethnicity, or other characteristics?’

It comes as universities were told they would receive extra funding to help increase capacity on a number of courses after warning they had limited space for students who saw their results increase.

Vice-chancellors and doctors had called for the cap on student numbers in medical schools to be removed amid the grading chaos.

The U-turn on Monday – which meant A-level results would be based on teachers’ estimated grades – came too late for many students who had already made choices about universities based on the grades they were initially awarded.

Leading universities have warned students who have higher grades may still be asked to defer their place if there is no longer space on their preferred course, a move signalled in Ms Donelan’s letter.

The Government’s Higher Education Taskforce – made up of university sector leaders – agreed on Wednesday to honour all offers across courses to students who meet their conditions this coming year wherever possible or, if maximum capacity is reached, to offer an alternative course or a deferred place.

It comes after the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service revealed around 15,000 students who were rejected by their first-choice university will now meet the offer conditions after the grading U-turn.

Figures from Ofqual show the proportion of A-level entries in England which received top grades increased to a record high following the changes to the system this week.

It comes as education experts criticised the ‘staggering’ number of A grades in the revised A-level results as modern foreign languages, maths and classics are revealed as the subjects with the highest rate of A or A* grades in England. 

Results based on teachers assessed grades showed more than 10 per cent of entries have been upgraded following a U-turn on the way results are awarded, with 38.1 per cent of students gaining an A or A* this year, compared to 25.2 per cent of original grades.

The surge follows Education Secretary Gavin Williamson scrapping the controversial algorithm system for A-levels and GCSEs following a mass outcry from students and parents.

The backlash prompted ministers to concede teachers’ predicted grades must be used to mark pupils who could not sit their exams due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Ministers also announced today that it will scrap the cap on numbers of students admitted to take medical degrees and every student will be guaranteed a place at their first choice university if they have the right grades. 

Nearly three in four (74 per cent) pupils taking A-levels in languages other than French, German or Spanish achieved an A* or A – the biggest figure of any subject.

Other languages available for students to study at A-level include Italian, Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Greek, Gujarati, Japanese, Persian, Portuguese, Turkish and Urdu. 

One of the reasons for this being at the top is that many students are likely to already have the subject as a native language, and so would be expected to perform well. 

And subjects that attract academically bright students also recorded high numbers of As with 71.1% of students getting an A in Further Mathematics and 49.15 in Mathematics,    

After other modern languages, the next subject with the highest A/A* rate is further maths at 71 per cent, a figure which might be expected because it is often taken by students who are expected to perform very well in the standard maths A-level. 

Following behind are the three standard modern foreign languages of German (58 per cent), Spanish (55 per cent) and French (54 per cent). 

Other subjects towards the top included the classics – compromising Latin, Greek and classical civilisation – which had an A*/A rate of 53 per cent. 

Further subjects not far behind include standard maths at 50 per cent, performing arts at 44 per cent, chemistry at 41 per cent and art and design subjects also at 41 per cent.

Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, described the percentages of top A-level grades as ‘staggering and no help at all to university admissions tutors having to take difficult decisions’.

The education expert told MailOnline: ”Other modern languages’ is at the top, because these languages are often taken by native speakers, but the exams have been set for those learning them as a second language.

‘German, Spanish and French are so high because the exams have been made easier in order to encourage more to take them. Languages, like maths and classical subjects, which also have very high percentages, are exams where there are right answers so it is possible to see whether someone is good at the subject.

‘Those taking them also tend to be brighter. The subjects at the bottom tend to be subjective and taken by the less brainy – English language (the brighter do English literature), media, PE etc.

‘The rank order of the subjects by grade tends to be very similar year by year, and this year the teachers have been extraordinarily generous. We do need exams to be able to tell who really deserves the grades.’ 

Education adviser and former Kent headteacher Peter Read also told MailOnline: ‘Modern foreign languages will have a proportion of native speakers taking the A-level of their own language and so will tend to perform highly.

‘In order to be fair to other candidates, grades have to be set high. Otherwise they would perform badly in those subjects and apart from other consequences entry numbers would fall sharply.

‘Further maths will primarily be taken by highly able mathematicians who are likely to perform well across the board and again, to keep their grades balanced, a high proportion of A grades are awarded.’

But at the other end of the scale, the lowest rate of A*/As in A-levels was in England language (22 per cent), then media, film and TV studies (23 per cent). 

Others towards the bottom of the A*/A range included English language and literature (23 per cent), business studies (25 per cent) and law (26.9 per cent).

The subjects with the biggest change in A/A* grades this year were other modern languages (up 22.3 percentage points), followed by music (up 22.1 points) and drama (up 21.2 points).

Others just behind were performing and expressive arts (up 19.8 points), Spanish (up 19.6 points), classics (up 18.7 points) and computing (up 18.6 points).

It comes as thousands of A-level entries have been upgraded following a major U-turn on the way results are awarded.

The proportion of A-level entries receiving an A grade or higher has increased to a record high for England, with 38.1 per cent awarded the top grades.

When this year’s results were first released last week under the controversial moderation system, some 27.6 per cent of entries achieved an A or above.

Meanwhile, the overall pass rate for grades A* to E has also risen to an all-time high at 99.7 per cent achieved the same in last Thursday’s results, figures provided by the exams regulator Ofqual show.

It comes after the Government announced students would be able to receive grades based on assessments by schools or colleges, rather than an algorithm, after thousands of results were downgraded on August 13.

Prior to the Government’s U-turn, exam boards had downgraded nearly two-in-five (39.1 per cent) grades in England, according to data from Qfqual – equating to about 280,000 entries being adjusted down after moderation.

A total of 35.6 per cent of grades were adjusted down by one grade, 3.3 per cent were brought down by two grades and 0.2 per cent came down by three grades.

Teachers were told to submit the grades they thought each student would have received if they had sat the papers, alongside a rank order of students, after exams were cancelled amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, exam boards moderated the grades to ensure this year’s results were not significantly higher than previously and the value of students’ grades were not undermined.

Meanwhile, about 15,000 students who were rejected by their first-choice university will now meet the offer conditions set for them to study after the grading U-turn.

Ucas (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) said universities had ‘exercised flexibility’ after it analysed the results from the four largest awarding bodies for 160,000 students who received upgraded A-level marks in England.

They showed that around 100,000 of those students had already secured a place at their first-choice university on results day last Thursday.

Of the remaining 60,000 students, around one in four will now meet the A-level offer conditions of their original first choice university, Ucas said. 

In addition, the proportion of GCSE entries in England awarded top grades has surged to a record high after a U-turn meant results could be based on teachers’ estimated grades amid cancelled exams.

Hundreds of thousands of youngsters received their GCSE results today following major changes.

More than one in four (25.9 per cent) GCSE entries in England scored one of the three top grades this year, up from just over a fifth (20.7 per cent) last summer, figures from exams regulator Ofqual show.

The proportion receiving at least a 7 – the equivalent of an A grade – is a record high based on available data following the decision to award grades based on teachers’ assessments, rather than an algorithm.

Figures from Ofqual show that 6.3 per cent of entries in England were awarded a 9 – the highest grade under the new numerical grading system – this year.

More than three in four (76 per cent) entries were awarded at least a 4 – which is broadly the equivalent of a C – in England, which is up 8.9 percentage points on last year when 67.1 per cent achieved the grades. 

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