Examination grades are predicted to fall as education inequality increases

On Sunday 14 August Ofqual and UCAS published a joint letter to students in England who will be receiving results on 18 August. The letter sets out the options for students on results day for confirming offers for university places, amidst growing concern that many students will not achieve their predicted grades and may miss out on a university place this year. With a higher number of applications, for fewer places, there is concern that those from less advantaged backgrounds will be disproportionately affected.

A study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) published today, 'Measuring and understanding contemporary English educational inequalities ' finds that there has been a lack of progress on closing educational inequalities disadvantages millions throughout their lives. It states: 

‘inequalities, such as the disadvantage gap at GCSE, have barely changed over the last 20 years and are likely to increase following the COVID-19 pandemic, which looks to have hit the attainment of poorer primary school children twice as hard as their peers.’

Family income is a key marker of educational success, and the gap between outcomes for pupils educated in the private and state sector are stark;

‘Ten years after GCSEs, over 70% of those who went to private school have graduated from university compared with just under half of those from the richest fifth of families at state schools and fewer than 20% of those from the poorest fifth of families.’

In their joint letter, Dr Jo Saxton, Chief Regulator, Ofqual and Clare Marchant, Chief Executive, UCAS acknowledge that students education has been disrupted by the pandemic. They say:

‘To get to this point, you have shown real dedication to your studies and resilience in sitting your formal exams and assessments after the disruption of the pandemic.’

The letter offers reassurance that the assessment system is fairly managed by Ofqual, and that students should have a ‘plan b’ in place in case they don’t achieve their predicted grades:

‘If you don’t get your first or insurance choices, there will be lots of choice through Clearing with around 30,000 courses available across a broad range of universities and colleges as well as apprenticeships with employers. UCAS is here to support you with your choices through Clearing. You might find it helpful to think in advance of results day about what you might do if you don’t get the results you were hoping for, do better than you expected, or change your mind about what you want to do. You can put yourself in the strongest possible position by thinking ahead and putting together a Plan B.

We are confident that with the right support you will continue to rise above any obstacles in your way and progress onto your next step.’

However, the letter does not in any way acknowledge that the ‘obstacles’ that face students from less advantaged backgrounds are far greater than their wealthier peers, nor that the pandemic had a disproportionate impact on the education of those students. 

NSEAD General Secretary, Michele Gregson comments:

‘Given the widening gap between the private and state sector that was exposed during the pandemic, NSEAD await this year’s examination results with concern. The attainment gap is growing. The reassurance from Ofqual and UCAS to those students who have been let down by a system that is loaded against them is at best disingenuous.

‘All of those students receiving results this summer have indeed shown incredible resilience and determination. They are doing all that they can to invest in their future, but are being let down by a failure to recognise education inequalities.’