Plea to selective universities over GCSE English

Some of the highest-achieving A-level students could be unfairly denied a place at the most selective universities if such institutions insist on candidates holding a grade A for GCSE English language, according to a headteachers’ association.

March 15, 2013

A shift in GCSE grade boundaries in summer 2012 meant that English language candidates needed to score higher marks than those who sat the examination the previous January in order to get the same grade. Those same students will next year be the ones applying to university.

Mike Griffiths, president of the Association of School and College Leaders, urged universities to take this into account when considering which students are offered places.

In a speech to ASCL’s annual conference in London, he said: “I am asking for re-assurance that a B grade in English language will not mean some of our most talented students fall foul of an arbitrary filter. 

“At my school there are five students who achieved an A or *A in all subjects – apart from, against expectations, English language. I want to be able to reassure those students that an application to Oxbridge or a Russell Group university will not automatically be consigned to the ‘reject’ pile.”

Mr Griffiths has also written to Russell Group vice-chancellors calling on them not to use an A grade in English language as a filter when assessing pupils.

“I appreciate that no such filter officially exists,” the letter says. “But I also appreciate that some departments in popular universities will have far more applicants than can be accommodated.  I recognise that, in order to sift applications, departments may regard a top grade in English language as an essential pre-cursor to success.

“I believe that if universities were to rely on such an unreliable and flawed examination outcome, you would be in danger of not only inflicting a second injustice on these students but also denying places to some of the most talented youngsters in the cohort.”

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Reader's comments (1)

The emphasis on A* grade recruitment, particularly GCE ‘A’ level qualifications in the ‘facilitating’ subjects, may be appropriate for (research-led) universities as prerequisites for top students naturally seeking further related study. However for professional-level vocational careers in engineering, technology, business, and commerce, specialist ‘A’ level qualifications do not necessarily provide suitable preparation. Indeed THES recently reported that some top ranked US universities have even closed their Engineering courses for a lack of students. Notably this problem is also seemingly particularly acute for many UK university technology departments at the p/g level. Perhaps the current policy drive towards nationally recognised and quality Approved Higher and Professional Apprenticeships (QCF levels 4 to 7, HNC to Masters degree or equivalent) highlights this educational dilemma. Irrespectively however, high-grade vocational qualifications, recruitment of matching A grade students, development of industry-related research and attainment of high league tables rankings for specifically focused HEIs, would probably need to be quickly demonstrated for this alternative educational model to succeed in competition with the traditional mode. While current national educational policy seems to be rapidly evolving in this direction, British industry would similarly also need to be cooperatively ‘up for the challenging task ahead’.

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