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In UK, sixth forms to lower GCSE requirements for pupils hit by pre-Covid grading

October 06, 2023

Original Article:

Sixth forms have said they will lower GCSE admission requirements for those hit by pre-Covid grading.

Pupils expecting their GCSE results this Thursday (24 August) will be marked under 2019 grading standards as exam boards return to pre-pandemic levels.

It means that in total, 300,000 fewer top grades will be awarded than last year, when results were pitched in between grades in 2019 and 2021 and were therefore more generous to account for the disruption pupils faced in the pandemic.

Sixth forms said they will lower the GCSE grades required from pupils when taking them on for A Level courses as a result.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This year’s GCSE grading is being adjusted so that it is similar to 2019 as part of a return to normal following the changes necessitated by the pandemic.

“It means that grades will generally be lower than over the past three years. Sixth forms and colleges are well aware of this change and will have taken it into account in the admissions criteria for the courses they are offering. 

“Broadly speaking a similar number of places will be available as in previous years and students will be placed on courses that are appropriate for them.”

‘No system-wide requirement’
Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, which represents all 90 state sixth form colleges in England, told The Telegraph that colleges would look to lower the results they expected from pupils at GCSE because of the grading changes.

“A lot of colleges will accept lower grades than last year, although this depends on the competition for places,” he said.

“Essentially if a college has typically over the last two years had 2,000 students and they say you have to have five Grade 5s to get in, what would have happened in the Covid years is that lots and lots of students would have had five 5s and more, but colleges wouldn’t necessarily have had the extra seats and classrooms to take people,” he said.

He explained that during the pandemic, they might have raised their GCSE entry criteria because pupils had much higher grades than usual.

“This year, not so many people would have had five Grade 5s so they might say, ‘Oh you can come in if you have four Grade 5s and two Grade 4s.”

He added that this would depend on individual colleges, which set their requirements according to the community they served, but that all colleges “will work on the assumption that students who are A level ready will have different GCSE grades this year”.

He added: “There’s no system-wide requirement. But the thing about sixth form colleges as opposed to a school system, is that they take a much higher proportion of young people with relatively low prior attainment. So more kids who haven’t passed their English and maths GCSE, and they are the most successful sector of all for students who didn’t pass English and maths to get that in their first year.”

An A Level results day that left thousands ‘disappointed’
The news comes as thousands of pupils receiving A Level results last week rushed onto the Ucas website to find a university course in clearing, having missed the grades required for their preferred offer, as 2019 grading standards were also used for pupils sitting A Levels in England.

More generous grading that took pandemic disruption into account was retained for pupils in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, told The Telegraph that the changes in GCSE grading could still leave thousands of pupils “disappointed”.

“Potentially, this could impact on thousands of pupils because if you drop a grade that could mean not getting into a sixth form which is hugely important for this group of children,” he said.

“These are incredibly important decisions or transition points in your life, they’re like a sliding doors moment, you either get into that sixth form or not, so I think potentially this year we will see a lot more disappointed teenagers.”

He added: “Unlike universities, there are different entry requirements across the country. It will depend on your local options, are they demanding a grade 5 or a 6? It is a bit of a lottery. I’ve compared it in the past to the Wild West, we don’t have a national standard on this and so it will depend on local options.”

Speaking on Tuesday, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said GCSEs were “very important exams”.

She told Times Radio: “For me, they were very important because I didn’t do A Levels. They were the thing that got me on to my apprenticeship.”

Last week, she said that students would not be asked about their A Level results in ten years’ time.


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