Peter Lampl

Let’s end the lottery of predicted grades

(Getty images)

Try explaining the British university admissions system to a foreigner. They look at you as if you’re mad.

‘What you do is, you apply to university in January on the basis of what your teacher thinks you will get in a series of cliff-edge exams you sit in May/June called A-levels. Only once you get your results in mid-August – which is to say, about a month before you’re due to start – is your place at university confirmed. But that’s only if you’ve actually achieved your predicted grades. If you haven’t, you go into this thing called ‘clearing’ where you scrabble around trying to pick up places that might have fallen free…’

Perhaps the kindest way to describe our universities admissions system is ‘archaic’. Another way would be to describe it as a huge brake on the life-chances of too many of our young people. And somehow that brake has remained in place for years.

Perhaps the kindest way to describe our universities admissions system is ‘archaic’

The system’s failings are multiple. It’s messy in the extreme, it’s dependent on grades predicted by teachers who are always, to a certain extent, going to be playing astrology in this regard. And the clearing process encourages many students to make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives almost on a whim, and certainly in breathless haste.

Most concerning, however, is the fact that the use of predicted grades most actively hinders those applicants from deprived communities. Research by the Sutton Trust, the social mobility charity that I founded and chair, has shown that schools unconsciously predict lesser outcomes for their poorest students than they achieve on results day – and in-so-doing lower their sights in terms of the kind of universities they apply to.

Britain is, believe it or not, the only country out of 32 OECD countries that uses such a system – and therefore the only country whose students suffer the dismal consequences of its failings.

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