ASCL backs major overhaul of university admissions

The Association of School and College Leaders has backed a major overhaul of the university admissions system to end the current ‘pantomime’ around offers and admissions.
In our response to a consultation from the Department for Education on post-qualifications admissions reform we have cautiously supported the proposal for Model 2.
Under this system, students would still apply for university courses before they complete their A-levels and other qualifications, but would not receive offers based on predicted grades as currently happens. Instead, their applications would be held until after results day and universities would then make offers on the basis of their actual results.
ASCL believes that this would help to address concerns around the accuracy of predicted grades and how this impacts upon students from disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as issues around the use of unconditional offers and the transparency of the grades required for university courses.
School and college leaders have been frustrated by the practice in some universities of making students so-called ‘conditional unconditional offers’ – whereby the offer to the student is made unconditional if the student makes the university their firm choice.
This disincentivises students to do well in A-levels and other qualifications and can lead to them choosing courses which are not necessarily right for them.
Another issue is the practice in some universities of making offers at high grades and then accepting lower grades after results are known. This makes it difficult for students and teachers to know exactly what grades are actually required.
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “On balance, we think that a reform of the university admissions system is needed in order to end what has become something of a pantomime around university offers and admissions. It was a marginal call, because there’s a good argument for sticking with the existing system and trying to sort out the problems, but we’re not confident that this will actually happen, so we’re backing change.
“The challenges of this change should not be under-estimated though, and we’re particularly conscious that students would need more support after results day under this new system because they would be juggling more options than is currently the case. Additional funding would be needed to employ dedicated advisers or pay overtime to teaching staff.
“This reform would also address some of the issues around predicted grades and particularly the concern that students from disadvantaged backgrounds may sometimes be under-predicted. But it’s important to note that schools and colleges would still need to give students a good idea of their likely grades when they are applying for university to help guide their choices.
“It is a crying shame that the government decoupled AS levels from A-levels as this system provided a very good way of providing accurate predictions.”

Our full consultation response can be read here.