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Universities prepare for A-Level grade inflation

UK universities are preparing for more disruption following a warning from experts that grade inflation due to cancelled summer exams could result in pressure on academic departments.

Last week it was confirmed by Ofqual, the exams regulator, that GCSE and A-Level exams would be replaced with teacher predicted grades after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that this is the “fairest possible system” for students.

However, two people who are familiar with Department for Education projections have raised concerns over the issue of grade inflation of between 10% and 15% as a result of the decision which could put pressure on top universities.

Senior industry figures have warned that the greatest impacts could be seen in laboratory-based courses where there is limited capacity, such as medicine.

Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, said that though centre-assessed grades are the least worst option, the Department for Education “must ensure they don’t bake a rock cake of exam grade inflation” as “qualifications need to be valued by employers”.

Mr Williamson formally announced the plans in the House of Commons on Thursday.

He said: “Exam boards will be issuing grade descriptions to help teachers make sure their assessments are fair and consistent. These will be broadly pegged to performance standards from previous years so teachers and students are clear what is expected at each grade.

“Doing this combined, with a rigorous quality assurance process, are just two of the ways this system will ensure grades are fair, and consistent.”

University admissions teams will pull out all the stop to make sure that this year’s applicants get the opportunity to fulfil their potential at university

– Universities UK

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the system is “fair and flexible” and will “ensure all young people can progress to the next stage of their education or career”.

However, universities have expressed concerns that there could be a repeat of last summer where grade inflation caused difficulty distinguishing between candidates.

Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor of the University of Sunderland, said that while selective subjects will see the most severe impacts of the government’s announcement, impacts will also be felt at both top and bottom ends at many institutions.

He said: “At Sunderland, we are likely to be managing both kinds of issues, given that we have a medical school but we are also used to taking students who do not necessarily hold traditional qualifications, or enter with lower grades.”

Despite concerns, the Russell Group has said it is making plans to increase its intake if necessary. Last year, student numbers at Russell Group universities increased by 15%.

Universities UK, which represents around 140 institutions, said: “University admissions teams will pull out all the stop to make sure that this year’s applicants get the opportunity to fulfil their potential at university.

“They will continue to be fair and flexible in their decision making including, as in any year, for those who choose to appeal their results over summer.”

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