Ucas forms ‘should include school’s exam results’ to help disadvantaged applicants

UCU’s nine-point checklist aims to make admissions fairer

November 23, 2015
College students receiving exam results
Source: Alamy
Bigger picture: academic union’s charter calls for more use of contextual data

University application forms should include information on how an applicant’s classmates performed to put their exam achievement in context, the sector’s largest union has said.

In a new nine-point charter to encourage fairer undergraduate admissions, the University and College Union (UCU) calls for Ucas to provide additional information on the GCSE scores found at an applicant’s school.

Publishing the percentage of students at an applicant’s school who achieved five GCSEs or more at grades of A* and A, including English and maths, may enable admissions officers to identify higher-performing students at weaker schools, the union believes.

The recommendation is likely to reignite the debate over the use of contextual data in admissions, which critics say has led to poorer students with lower grades being admitted over those with higher marks, and has elicited claims of social engineering.

Other recommendations included in the UCU’s charter, which it wants universities to back, include a review of the use of interviews, greater training to eradicate “unconscious bias” and a ban on universities making unconditional offers prior to the publication of A-level results.

The charter follows the publication in January of the results of a survey of more than 2,000 staff involved in university admissions, in which unconditional offers were described by respondents as “grossly unfair”, “irresponsible” and a “betrayal of schoolteachers…trying to encourage their students to engage with school work”.

Seven in 10 admissions staff questioned for the survey also backed a move to post-qualifications applications (PQA) – another recommendation made in the UCU charter.

However, that proposal has been rejected decisively by the sector on multiple occasions over the past 20 years.

Responding to the UCU charter, Ucas said that its contextual data service already include information on the proportion of students achieving A*-C at GCSE by school.

“If there was sufficient demand from the sector, and the Department for Education can provide the data, then we could include further information within the package of the contextual data we supply,” a Ucas spokesman added.

A major consultation and review held in 2012, which considered moving to a post-qualifications application system, showed that there was little appetite for overhauling the current system, he added.

Some 61,000 students were accepted through a version of PQA – clearing – last year, a point made recently by Ucas chief executive Mary Curnock Cook, he added.


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