The government has sought to allay pupils’ fears over GCSE and A-level results, which are expected to be lower in England this summer after two years of record increases, reassuring them that universities will “adjust accordingly”.
The schools minister Will Quince said it was important to “move back to a position where qualifications maintain their value” and reassured students that grades will still be higher than in 2019, before the pandemic.
Quince also criticised what he described as union “scaremongering” after staff at the country’s largest exam board, AQA, announced a second strike over a pay dispute, from 12 to 15 August, triggering concerns that results will be disrupted.
With less than a fortnight to go until A-level results are published, Quince said: “I think young people have enough to worry about and be concerned about ahead of examination results anyway.
“To add this into the mix, as a potential worry about whether their papers will be marked and their results will come through on time, is totally unnecessary.”
He added: “I’ve had assurance that they won’t have any impact, but unfortunately scaremongering of this sort of nature by unions is deeply regrettable.”
This year’s candidates are the first to sit exams since 2019, because of the pandemic, which resulted in exams being cancelled and pupils being assessed by their teachers.
The government has said grades will be brought down to pre-pandemic levels in two stages. Very few schools and colleges will get better results this summer than in 2021, and grades will drop further in 2023 to bring them back into line with 2019 results.
In an interview with the PA Media news agency, Quince said: “Over the past couple of years, we’ve had extraordinary times because of the pandemic and we’ve had to take extraordinary steps, quite exceptional steps, which have led to higher grades.
“Actually, what young people and universities and employers are telling us [is] that exams are the best and fairest method for assessment and that it’s really important that we move back as quickly as possible to a position where qualifications maintain their value and that’s really important for employers and universities.”
Asked how the government would manage students’ disappointment at getting lower grades this year, the education minister said: “I think it’s important to stress that grades this year will still be higher than 2019, so pre-pandemic,” because of the adjustments made to exams to reflect the disruption that young people have faced.
Many in the university sector have warned that this year will be one of the most competitive on record, with more 18-year-olds applying than ever before, at a time when universities are trying to rein in student numbers after a surge over the last two years during the Covid pandemic.
The qualifications regulator, Ofqual, has been working with schools in England, urging them to manage pupils’ and parents’ expectations over grades.
Quince said students missing the grades they were predicted or hoped for was not new and that there were different options available. “You may still get into the university that was your first choice; you may go through clearing or go to another university – that’s why it’s really important to have a plan B. You might go down a vocational route or an apprenticeship or you may even decide to go straight into the world of work.”
Last week universities were urged to give disadvantaged students who narrowly miss their required A-level grades “additional consideration”, after research revealed the disruptive impact of Covid in the run-up to exams.
One in five A-level students (21%) who applied to university missed more than 20 days of school this year because of Covid disruption, while a third missed 11 days or more, according to research by the Sutton Trust educational charity.