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Tens of thousands of A-level pupils may miss out on first choice university | Admissions

Tens of thousands of A-level students are at risk of losing a place at their favorite university next week after new analysis showed a sharp drop in top grades compared to last year.

Amid warnings that this year’s admissions round would be “the hardest to remember”, research suggests a 10 percentage point drop in the number of A and A* grades in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, following the reintroduction of exams this summer.

After two years of higher average numbers during the pandemic – when exams were canceled and the work was graded by teachers – the government asked regulators to set limits so that the numbers, to be published on Thursday, would be halfway between those in 2019 and 2021. with numbers set to return to pre-pandemic levels by 2023.

After record results last year, when 44.8% of grades were A or A* at A level, it is estimated that this will drop to 35% (compared to 25.5% in 2019).

While last year nearly one in five (19.1%) grades were A*, this year is expected to drop to 13.5%. Similarly, the number of A* to C grades is expected to fall from 88.5% in 2021 to 82%.

The shift in results is likely to lead to major political repercussions in a year that saw four different education secretaries.

The plan for this year’s A-levels was first drafted by Gavin Williamson, who was blamed for the government’s chaotic approach to education during the pandemic. The plan is now overseen by James Cleverly, who may be given a new role when a new prime minister is appointed in September.

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Labor has accused the Tories of a “miserable failure to help children recover from the pandemic” and of not taking enough extra measures for this year’s exams.

An expert said this year’s experience would point to a fundamental shift that will last a decade as demand for higher education places remains high.

“Instead of universities competing for students, it will be students fighting for limited places,” said Lee Elliot Major, a professor of social mobility at Exeter University.

“Thousands of students with relatively high grades are likely to be disappointed and not secure their first choice,” he added.

This year’s results are also expected to show an improvement in the performance of male candidates, who have likely benefited from the reintroduction of exams.

They will also reflect changing subject preferences, with psychology growing in popularity as acceptance of English continues to decline.

Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Center for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, has calculated that if each candidate drops two grades on average as a Result of the post-pandemic rebalancing, up to 60,000 students applying to university will be at risk of their loss. favorite place to lose.

“The A-level results in 2022 may be the most interesting in years,” Smithers said. “The return of exams allows us to measure the impact of teacher assessment.

“The rise in top marks has been extraordinary – they have risen from 25.5% of the total in 2019 to 44.8% in 2021,” he said, adding: “Some candidates have been misunderstood about their talents and will made wrong choices, while universities could not separate candidates as accurately and honestly as they used to.

“Universities have responded to the boom in grading teachers in the top grades by setting higher standards and lowering firm offers. For many of this year’s school leavers, the hard work didn’t end with A-levels, but begins again on results day in the pursuit of the coveted places.

“As a Result of pushing the top numbers down, about 40,000 applicants could miss their first picks, although it could be as many as 60,000.”

Yet there will still be 80,000 top marks than in 2019 when the final exams were taken and Smithers said that while there will be pressure on top courses, there will be plenty of places elsewhere.

With the return of exams, which were reintroduced with adjustments to reflect the pandemic disruption, Smithers predicted that boys will begin to catch up with girls, whose results have been improved by the pause in exams and the use of teacher assessment.

In terms of subject trends, preliminary figures show that the number of psychology students has increased by 10%, making it the second most popular A-level after math. The number of people studying English continues to fall, by about a third since 2009 to 62,000 in 2021, with a further 8% drop in 2022.

Major said: “This year will be the most difficult round of admissions in living memory for many applicants – and it signals a fundamental shift that will take a decade.”

He said this new, more competitive era of university admissions has been driven by an increasing number of 18-year-olds, a rebalancing by some universities shrinking places after taking on additional students during Covid, and a looming recession that is cutting off job alternatives.

“We must do everything we can to ensure that our most underprivileged and vulnerable students are not unfairly evicted as candidates do everything possible to achieve the most sought-after degrees.” He expressed concern that the gap in A-level results between state and private students had also widened.

“The biggest challenge for schools in the post-pandemic era will be to narrow the academic divides that have emerged — if they don’t, a generation will be left with permanent scars.”

Chris Hale, interim director of Universities UK, which represents the higher education sector, said most students were expected to get their first choice this year, with many high-quality courses available in clearing.

“They have taken into account that this year’s candidates are likely to have a lower percentage of top marks than the past two years with the return of exams after the disruption of the pandemic. Decisions are not made on numbers alone.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Education said: “UCAS expects the majority of students to secure their place among their regular picks this year and in preparation we have focused on working with universities to ensure that offers reflect the numbers that students will receive this summer.

“The competition for places at the most selective universities has always been high and this year is no different, but there will always be many options for students at another university, through clearing or high-quality career opportunities that are just as prestigious and rewarding as academic routes.”

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