A-level students
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A quarter of A-level students preparing to start university not set work by teachers

A quarter of A-level students preparing to start university have been given no work by their schools.

According to a survey of more than 500 applicants by the Sutton Trust, tens of thousands of pupils whose exams were cancelled as a result of Covid-19 are not receiving any assignments from their teachers.

It also revealed a disparity between private and state schools. Six in ten university applicants at private schools are receiving regular work and feedback, compared with three in ten at state schools.

Almost half of those surveyed believe the pandemic will damage their chances of getting into their first choice of university, and a fifth had either changed their mind about going to university or have become less certain.

This uncertainty has affected working-class students more than middle-class candidates.

The survey also revealed that the majority of university applicants taking A-levels this year think the new teacher-assessed grading system is “less fair”.

More than seven in 10 applicants (72%) said they thought the “calculated” grading process was less fair than exam grades, and 43% felt the new procedure would negatively impact their A-level results.

As a result of Covid-19 exam cancellations, teachers will allocate grades to students, using prior attainment to reach their judgements.

Today’s research shows there is a huge degree of worry and uncertainty amongst university applicants and current students about how the current crisis will affect them

– Sir Peter Lampl

These assessments will be subject to alteration by exam boards and Ofqual, the exam regulator. Students will also be able to sit their exams in autumn if they are unhappy with their grade.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “Today’s research shows there is a huge degree of worry and uncertainty amongst university applicants and current students about how the current crisis will affect them.

“Almost three-quarters of university applicants think the new grading system is less fair than how A-level grades are usually awarded and half of all students think the crisis will make it harder to get into their first-choice university.

“There are no easy solutions to this unprecedented situation. But what is of upmost importance is that the poorest students don’t lose out. A cap on places is a cause of concern to university students. If and when they are introduced, they need to be carefully implemented to minimise the impact on disadvantaged students.

“The upheaval is also a chance to introduce post-qualifications applications. This means that students can make informed choices based on actual rather than predicted grades, which particularly disadvantage high-attaining poorer students.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We understand the anxiety felt by some university applicants that A-levels will be graded this year in a way that none of us expected, but we would reassure them that everybody is committed to ensuring that results are fair and accurate for all students.

“Their schools and colleges know them well and will be able to provide centre-assessed grades to a high degree of accuracy.

“These will then be submitted to the exam boards, which will apply a process of standardisation to ensure there is no disadvantage to this year’s students in comparison to any other year’s A-level cohort. This process will allow students to progress to university courses in the normal way with qualifications which are as valid as they are in any other year.”

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