A-level U-turn: What happens now for students and what about university places?

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies

It's been a tumultuous few days for young people who were let down by the A-level moderation system and with the latest u-turn everyone will be asking - what happens now?

Education Secretary Gavin Williams was forced to announce a dramatic u-turn and apologise earlier when he announced the government would give all students in England their predicted grades.

The government had faced harsh criticism after 40% of predicted grades were moderated down, with the lower grades disproportionately being given to lower-income students.

The past few days have seen chaos as frustrated students who were given lower grades were forced to give up on their dream university places.

The Scottish government was the first to reverse its moderation process, with Wales and Northern Ireland following suit, meaning the whole of the UK is now on a level playing field.

Now with predicted grades being given to all, what's going to happen next for students?

Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson Credit: PA

What grades can be used?

All students who received lower grades than they were predicted will now have had their grades raised to what their teachers believed they were capable of.

Teachers predictions, or 'centre assessment grades' (CAGs) are now the official results of this year's cohort of A-level students.

This means if a student was predicted AAA and was given BBD due to the moderation, their grades will have increase to the higher, original prediction.

The government has also said in the unlikely circumstance their moderated grades were higher than their predicted grades, they can stick with what the algorithm gave them.

Students protesting over the government's moderation process Credit: PA

What if students are still unhappy with their grades?

Last week, Mr Williamson gave a “triple lock” pledge that students could use the highest result out of their calculated grade from exam boards, their mock exam or sitting the actual exam in the autumn.

But following the decision to allow teachers’ grades to be used instead, the education secretary has said mock exam results will not be a key part of the appeals process for A-level and GCSE students in England.

Students who are unhappy with both their calculated grade and centre assessment grade will still be able to sit exams in the autumn.

The Ucas (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) deadline for applicants to meet their offer conditions is September 7, leaving exam boards only a matter of weeks to issue outcomes of appeals.

What does this mean for university places?

If the student who was given BBD missed out on their university offer, and settled on somewhere else, it's not too late to go back to the first institution and ask for their place.

It is a varied picture at the moment and universities across the country are still trying to figure out how best to handle the influx of students and their limited number of places.

On the plus side, Mr Williamson has announced the government will waive the fines for universities that go over their set limit, giving places much for flexibility.

Ucas has said it is "working with universities, colleges and schools to support students to understand their options and achieve their place in higher education".

Students celebrating their A-level results Credit: PA

Ucas urged students who did not get the place they wanted originally not to rush into a decision on what to do next.

They encouraged students to talk to their parents, guardians, and teachers before deciding on their next steps.

Ucas promised it was working with all relevant parties to ensure each pupil got the best outcome.

Some institutions have already raised concerns about a lack of capacity, staffing, accommodation and facilities if numbers increase – especially at a time when universities are trying to be Covid-secure.

Students who have now secured their first choice following the government’s announcement may be asked to defer their place by a year if there is no space left on their preferred course.

If a student has accepted an offer through clearing but now think they could get into their first choice, the best option is to contact their chosen university.

What are universities saying?

For almost a week universities have been working under the presumption this year's cohort of grades were the final ones, now that this has changed many are still deciding what to do.

Some universities have already said they will honour all offers, including the University of Glasgow, Cardiff University, University College London and Queen Mary University London.

The University of Cambridge said it would be in touch with all students who have offers.

Exeter University said before the u-turn was announced it would honour all offers if the student met the grades by September 7.

Other universities including Sheffield, York, and Leeds have said they were currently working through the announcement and working out their next move.

Tim Bradshaw, CEO of the Russell Group (which represents the UK's top universities) said they had adopted a flexible approach aimed at supporting students.

But he added: "There are limits to what can be done by the university sector alone to address that uncertainty without stretching resources to the point that it undermines the experience for all.

"Not to mention ensuring students and staff are kept safe as we follow the steps needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic."

What will happen to BTEC grades?

Students have called for urgent clarity on how BTEC students will be affected by the announcement.

Mr Williamson said the Department for Education (DfE) is working with BTEC awarding body Pearson and he is hopeful that the change will be extended to the vocational qualifications.What's going to happen to GCSE's?

While all the fiasco around A-levels has been going on, GCSE results day has been getting closer.

The government originally planned to use a method of moderation similar to what they used for A-levels.

They have now decided to drop that and only use teacher estimated grades for all GCSE's.

What does this mean for the future?

One of the biggest criticisms of using teacher estimated grades was it would greatly inflate students performance for this year only.

Now that teacher estimates have been given it will undoubtedly be the best year ever for A-levels across the country.

While on paper inflated grades look good for each individual student there was a fear with so many higher grades around the value of them would be lowered.

Mr Williamson said on Thursday higher grades "would mean that students this year would lose out twice over, both in their education and their future prospects."

However, with all the fears about missed university places, it is likely the government's u-turn today will have helped more than it will hinder