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20 November 2019updated 07 Jun 2021 4:42pm

Labour’s new A-Level policy is good opposition politics

By Stephen Bush

A Labour government would move the university application process until after A-Level results are known, the party has announced.

It’s a good bit of opposition policymaking on the part of Angela Rayner and her policy team: it piggybacks the coverage of A-Level results and gets the party talked about it in connection with it, and there is strong evidence in favour of the policy. The United Kingdom is the only country in the developed world to use predicted grades to manage university admissions. Even the United Kingdom has only done it comparatively briefly.

Just 16 per cent of predicted grades are accurate, and the difference tends to benefit the privately-educated, whose predicted grades tend to be inflated, which leads to children from state schools applying to universities with a lower grade entry requirement than the one they actually achieve in their exams.

In addition, the policy is broadly supported by most of the relevant stakeholders. (Actually this might be the only black mark against it as the best way to get your policy talked about in the news is for it to be loudly opposed to it.) From an opposition perspective it is win-win.

Will it actually happen? Well, the reason why when the last Labour government embarked upon a consultation on the same policy they abandoned it is that you have to do a lot of logistical tinkering to get there – moving around term dates for schools and universities, or potentially putting more resource into schools so they can put on a fourth term after results to support students through the application process.  In the end, they felt they could achieve similar improvements in pupil performance with less hassle.

So it’s a great policy for opposition parties that want to get noticed at A-Level results time, but I wouldn’t be shocked if, even after Labour takes office, it remains a great policy for opposition parties rather than something that ends up happening.

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