View from Westminster: Open up more university places for school leavers

News Desk (26 August, 2020)

On A Level results day my inbox filled with the most heart-breaking accounts from students

36601Helen Hayes, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood

We have fantastic schools across Southwark and my constituency of Dulwich and West Norwood, and I am proud of the work that our hard working, committed teachers do to support students to achieve their best.

This is usually the time of year for celebrating the culmination of years of hard work in A Level and GCSE results which enable students to go on the next stage of their education, training or working life confident and well equipped to thrive.

Coronavirus has been very hard for school students who have spent months away from the classroom and away from their friends. As a mum to one teenager, and one pre-teen, I know how difficult it has been for students to stay motivated and focused and continue their learning from home. For students in years eleven and thirteen, it has been even harder – the government announced at the start of lockdown that they would not sit exams this year, and for many their formal education for this year came to an end at that point.

Having told young people that they would not sit exams, the Tory government then drew up a formula for awarding exam grades. Along with many others, I had raised concerns on multiple occasions that this formula would result in unfair, inaccurate results being awarded to some children, and that it would risk widening the attainment gap.

Boris Johnson and Tory ministers refused to act on these concerns and as a result grades were awarded which for 40 per cent of A Level students had been adjusted downwards by the government’s formula, compared with their teachers’ assessment.

On A Level results day my inbox filled with the most heart-breaking accounts from students who had been made offers to study at university but whose adjusted grades were too low, crushing their hopes and dreams for the future. It was particularly concerning that the downward adjustment of grades affected state school students much more than those at private schools and in particular state schools with higher numbers of Black, Asian and minority ethnic students and lower income students.

After days of chaos and anxiety for students, the government was forced into a U-turn on A Level and GCSE results, announcing that grades would be awarded as originally assessed by teachers. This is welcome, but the damage caused has not yet been repaired. The government’s chaos meant that even after receiving the correct grades, many students have still been unable to access university places as they have been allocated to other students in the meantime.

This cannot be allowed to stand. Labour is calling for the government to provide funding support for universities to increase the places available, so that no student loses out on the place they deserve and next year’s students are not adversely impacted by the numbers from this year deferring their places.

There is even more chaos for BTEC students, many of whom did not receive their level three results which should have been out on the same day as A Level results. The day before BTEC level one and two results were due the exam board announced that they would not be published but must be reviewed. Thousands of students have had to put their future plans on hold as a result, unable to confirm university, college or apprenticeship places for September.

This year’s students have already had to endure so much. I’m proud of all our young people and I’ll keep fighting for a bright future for every student in my constituency.

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