Labour wants universities to allocate places only after students have received their final exam grades, the party’s shadow education secretary Angela Rayner has announced.
The proposal comes in the same week that more than 300,000 school-leavers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland await the results of their A-Levels and other qualifications, with the majority holding offers to study undergraduate degrees subject to them achieving a certain set of grades, usually predicted in the first half of their final year at school.
Both universities and schools, however, have responded to Labour’s idea by suggesting that any changes to the current system could necessitate a dramatic overhaul of the academic calendar.
Clare Marchant, the chief executive of UCAS, the university applications body, suggested Labour’s new system would not be as holistic as the one already in place. She said in a statement: “Young people need their teachers’ support when making application choices, and this isn’t readily available to all at the scale required when schools and colleges are closed during August.”
But Labour believes that predicted grades are too often inaccurate and this admissions process could unfairly disadvantage working-class or ethnic minority pupils. Research by The Sutton Trust, a social mobility charity, found that, on average, around 1,000 high-achieving students from these backgrounds had their grades under-predicted every year, which can force them to wait a year before re-applying to higher-end institutions such as Oxford, Durham or the London School of Economics.
Rayner has pledged that a new “streamlined” application and admissions system would be introduced by the end of the next Labour government’s first term in office. She said in a statement: “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.” Rayner added: “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, to make higher education genuinely accessible to all.”