Students ask Bath Uni to make all 2020 offers unconditional after new results system causes controversy

Nearly 1000 students demand the University take action after thousands are left disappointed with A Level algorithm results.

Many students missed out on university places after their A-Level results were graded below their predictions, this said to more commonly affect students from state-funded schools.

Former Bath student, Chris Roche, responded with an open letter asking the University of Bath to honour the offers they had made to this year’s prospective students. This letter has since received over eight-hundred signatures.

This comes after it was revealed that the Department of Education’s assessment system disproportionately affected students studying in larger class groups, more typically found in state schools.

According to Ofqual, the exam regulator, students from these schools were more likely to have their teacher-proposed grades downgraded, while pupils from wealthier areas were less likely to have their results overruled.

The open letter, written by an alumnus and based on a similar petition by Oxford University alumni, stresses the need for the University to make “this year’s offers unconditional and offering deferred admissions wherever this would result in exceeded capacity”. The campaigners aim to support those students who have missed out on places at their chosen universities because of their given grades. 

The letter outlines Bath’s Strategy for 2016-2021 in promoting diversity and equality and argues that in order for Bath to achieve its objective, “we mustn’t exclude [prospective students] before they have even arrived”. 

Other universities have acted to mitigate the effects of this controversy, with a number of colleges at the University of Oxford making all offers unconditional.

Bath Time recently unveiled that the University of Bath had a record-level of prospective students who had accepted conditional offers from the University, reaching 9,171.

The author of the open letter, speaking to Bath Time, said: “the pandemic has exposed many pre-existing injustices in the UK. Low paid and Black workers have born the brunt of it. Many of those who carry out the most socially useful jobs have been subjected to the most exploitative employment practices, and the worst death tolls. Now their children are disproportionately having their A Level results are downgraded and access to university put at risk.

Based on recent months, I’m beyond believing that this government has the capacity – in empathy or competence – to do better than punishing poor pupils for being from economically deprived areas and underfunded schools. But we’re better than that.

During my time at Bath, I learnt that our biggest asset is the community of students and staff. We notice when things aren’t right, speak up, stand together and make things better. That’s how we won a Living Wage for the lowest paid, including student workers, how we forced the departure of our last Vice Chancellor when improper governance was unearthed and how we won scholarships for refugee students.

University management have said they will hold some offers open pending appeal results, but the national appeals process in crisis, there is no guarantee that outcomes will be any fairer, students may still be forced to defer for a year and retakes can be prohibitively expensive for the very same students disproportionately downgraded. Just holding offers open isn’t a solution.

To welcome our prospective students, regardless of wealth, and protect them from the discrimination, stress and potentially devastating consequences of their A Level downgrades, we need to make all offers this year unconditional, as Worcester College, University of Oxford, already have. If you haven’t signed the letter, please do so today and share it widely.”

Why did students from state schools receive lower grades than those in private schools?

  • The government developed an algorithm to predict A-Level grades based on a broad number of factors, including the past performance of each school. The aim of this was to ensure an even distribution of results across the country.
  • The algorithm could not be applied to schools with small class sizes because the data set was too small. In this instance, centre assessment grades or teacher predictions were used to inform final results. As class sizes increased, the algorithm was applied more.
  • In the UK, private schools typically have smaller class sizes than state-funded institutions, resulting in their students receiving higher grades, while more state school students receiving grades lower than their teachers’ predictions.
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