Your A-level questions answered - from how to get your teacher predicted grades to the appeals process

Your questions on the A-level fiasco answered. Credit: PA

The government's U-turn on the A-level crisis will have been welcome news to many, but the change in policy will have left many students missing out on university this year and with questions that still need answering.

We asked students what issues remain up in the air, from what happens if you've lost out on your first choice university place, to re-sits, the appeals process and what impact this fiasco will have on next year's university places.

Here are the questions put to us and the response from education experts.

  • I got rather respectable results. Under what conditions would that change following the government's U-turn? Would they go down if my teachers actually predicted a lower grade than what I got through the algorithm?

You will get the higher of the two grades - whether that is the centre assessed grade (teacher predicted grade) or the moderated grade from the exam board.

  • Why was a school's previous performance in terms of results taken into account when calculating the grades? I simply don't see the correlation, and I don't understand how a school's past performance should affect an individual student?

This was to ensure standards over time. If a school usually got a certain profile of results, Ofqual and the government felt it was fair to predict this would happen again the following year. As you've identified, this didn't work, hence the U-turn.

  • My teacher predicted grades means I have met the criteria for my first choice university – do they still have a place for me this year?

Congratulations on getting your well deserved grades!

You now need to contact your first choice university now and discuss your circumstances with them.

They may still have a place for you. If not, there may be similar courses you could do at your first choice university, or you might defer and start your course in September 2021.

  • What are my rights if my first choice university says I have to defer entry until 2021?

Unfortunately, you don’t have the right to a place at a university. You don’t have a contract with the until you have been offered and accepted a firm offer.

However, you don’t have to defer entry, you have other options. You can discuss with your first choice university if they have alternative courses that still have spaces on, and you can consider attending another university that offers the same or a similar course if they still have spaces.

You may want to discuss these options with your school or collage and members of your support network.

  • I haven’t received my centre-assessed grades yet, when and how am I likely to receive these?

You have to request this data from your school or college. They should be able to give it to you over the phone or by email.

Credit: PA
  • Can I still sit re-sits if I choose to?

If for any reason you want to re-sit you can do this. Contact your school or college and discuss your options based on your personal circumstances so you can move forward in the best possible way for you.

  • What is the appeals process now?

At the moment, there is no effective appeals process – or even information about appealing – in place.

The current situation is just adding to what has already been a very stressful and challenging year for young people. Right now, no one can appeal, we are waiting for the government to put a process in place and explain it to all involved, including students and schools.

Ahead of a formal process, talk to your school or college and let them know that you think your grade does not reflect your academic ability as it should.

If you’re unhappy with the Centre Assessed Grade - talk to your school directly in the first instance and ask for more information about how and why they assessed you as they did.

Once a process has been announced, further information should be available from your school and the government about next steps you need to take.

  • Is this a good time to take a gap year? Will I have more chance of getting into university next year, as I missed out this year?

That is a really tough question and there are no easy answers.

The university sector is uncertain now and will probably will be again next year. We don’t know at this point whether it will be easier to get in. We don’t know how many students will be offered places next year. We also don’t know if the government will cap university numbers next year as they did (originally) this year.

You might also want to consider that, thanks to Covid, gap years are likely to look quite different this year and you may not be able to get the same kind of work experience or jobs that you might have done in previous years, nor are you likely to be able to travel as you would have in previous years.

It can be useful to consider not just what you want to do in the next few months, but what your longer-term ambitions are. Then you can research the best things you can be doing to work towards that goal over the coming months.

You don’t have to make a quick decision. You can hold onto any university offers, while you decide what you want to do - this will buy you thinking and planning time. It’s best not to give up an offer of a place until you’re absolutely sure you don’t want to take it up.

Talk to your family and school and get as much advice as possible, ultimately though the choice is yours.

Credit: PA
  • Are universities accepting more spaces than usual this year? Will my classes have a higher number of students?

Some universities have been able to increase the number of place on some of their courses, partly because of the decline in overseas students, but this will vary from university to university and course to course.

Universities are regulated by the OfS, and have to demonstrate that their courses are of high quality and are robust, as well as being safe and have the right social distancing measures in place.

If they have increased their numbers they will have considered all these things.

  • If universities are accepting more places than usual, how can campuses remain Covid-secure?

Each university will have its own plans for being Covid-secure, including smaller groups and more online provision.

There are many factors they will consider including teaching space, and lab space, if they are a campus university (where everything is on one site) or a civic university (where buildings are spread across a town or city, as well as what accommodation they have for students.

If you need to understand what your university specifically is doing, they are likely to have published this on their website.

  • What is the knock-on effect on next year’s intake? I’ve just completed AS and I’m worried that there will be less spaces at universities next year, as a result of students not getting into universities this year?

It is very difficult to predict what the knock-on effect will be, we also need to consider the impact of Covid and social distancing measures and also that the government can (as it had done this year) cap places.

However, you can be pretty confident that the picture will become much clearer over the coming weeks.

  • Who do I complain to about this process and the algorithm system initially put into place?

It depends what you specifically want to complain about and what you want to get out of complaining?

If you are not challenging your own grades, but want to complain more broadly about the system that was put in place, then, as with other government policies you can write to your local member of parliament, or even write directly to the prime minister or to the Minister for Education.

You might want to set out what you are complaining about specifically, the impact it has had and what you would like to happen next. If you are looking for a specific outcome - such as a review of your grades - you will need to wait for an official appeals process to be announced.

It’s worth staying in touch with your school or college and letting them know you’d like to complain.

A-level students celebrate after it was confirmed that candidates in England will be given grades estimated by their teachers. Credit: PA
  • My friend received a U in WJEC Criminology (since been put up to a C). How could a U be awarded to someone when their exam was cancelled? From what I know, you only get a U if you don't write anything, write complete drivel or don't show up.

A U grade exposes exactly how the algorithm doesn’t work - and shows just how mechanistically it has been applied. It is very difficult to understand how a robust system could make this award, to any student.

  • What is happening with BTEC students?

We understand that attention is now being given to BTEC and non-A level qualifications and it’s important that the same consideration and fairness is applied to all students and all qualifications.

The coursework component of BTECs may mean that assigned grades may be more accurate grades in terms of students’ previous work and potential - but we’ll need to wait for results and more information to be realised.

There is a real concern that while BTEC students are waiting for results, A-level students will be able take up available university places. This is deeply concerning and very unfair.

  • I’m a private candidate and was told we have no option but to not receive grades, take the exams again and waste another year instead of going to university. Why aren’t private candidates being given their UCAS predicted grades? Why have resit and home-schooled students been ignored by the government?

The government has made decisions about how the process of awarding grades will work this year.

They have not explained why they have made this particular decision. You can discuss your situation with the universities you have applied to, they may be able to take into account your specific circumstances.

This article was put together with the help from Villiers Park Educational Trust, Grainne Hallahan, recruitment editor at TES and Dr Tony Breslin.