Ahead of A-Level results day this year, Labour has announced plans to scrap university offers based on predicted grades and radically overhaul the higher education admissions system.
Critics of the current system have argued that making offers to students based on predicted A-Level results unfairly disadvantages poorer students and those from minority backgrounds.
According to social mobility charity The Sutton Trust, poorer students are more likely to have their grades under-predicted, which means the most ambitious and best informed applicants from high-achieving schools are effectively given preferential treatment under present rules.
Under plans set out by Angela Rayner, the Shadow Education Secretary, a Labour government would establish a new system of post-qualification admissions (“PQA”). This would allow students to apply for a university or higher education place only after obtaining results for A-Levels or other qualifications.
Commenting on the announcement, Rayner said: “The higher education admissions system isn’t working for students, and radical action is needed to change that.
“Predicted grades are wrong in the vast majority of cases, and disadvantaged students in particular are losing out on opportunities on the basis of those inaccurate predictions. No one should be left out of our education system just because of their background, yet with grants scrapped and fees tripled, the system is now deeply unfair.
“A Labour government will deliver the reform that is needed, implementing a new system of post-qualification admissions by the end of our first term in office. We will put students at the heart of the system, making it fairer, more accurate, and a genuine vehicle for social justice.
“We will work with schools, colleges, and universities to design and implement the new system, and continue to develop our plans to make higher education genuinely accessible to all.”
UCL Institute of Education research last year revealed that one in four disadvantaged students who went on to achieve ‘AAB’, or better, received predicted grades lower than their final A-Level results. A study conducted by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills in 2011 found that black students were least likely to have their grades accurately predicted.
Labour’s proposed PQA scheme would aim to curtail the steady increase of unconditional offers and get rid of the clearing process, which has been widely thought to create unnecessary additional stress for students.
The announcement has been welcomed by the University and College Union, which has campaigned to reform the higher education admissions system. “Allowing people to apply after they receive their results would help level the playing field for students, remove the problems associated with unconditional offers and end the chaotic clearing scramble,” UCU general secretary Jo Grady said.
The announcement comes as Labour continues to debate internally how best to democratise the UK’s education system. This summer has seen a groundswell of support for the abolition of private schools, including the launch of Labour Against Private Schools. Backed by former Labour leader Ed Miliband, the campaign is advancing a motion for party conference that would commit a future Labour government to integrating private schools into the state system.