Changing the goal posts?


What the Shifting of the A Level Grade Boundaries Could Mean for Oxford Open Learning Students.

A Level exam results day is possible the most tense in the academic calendar. With an announcement from admissions service Ucas that 7% less students have been accepted for university courses this year, it is certainly a worrying time for many A level students and their families.

What probably does not help to allay those fears, is the news story that qualifications watchdog Ofqual has ordered exam boards to ensure that the 2012 exam grades were distributed in a similar way to those of last year. This system, called ‘comparable outcomes’ means that by altering the grade boundaries every year, they can ensure that a consistent percentage of students are awarded the very top grades. The examiners were also told that any significant variations in results would have to be justified, leading to claims of ‘grade fixing’.

So what does this mean for our Oxford Open Learning students? There have been fears expressed that if exam boards deliberately change the grade boundaries to manipulate statistics it may lead to rising numbers of talented students failing to secure those all-important university places. Certainly it is expected that a higher number than ever before will be using the clearing system, to match students with space places.

However, it is important not to get too bogged down with the doom and gloom. Yes, getting accepted into a university might seem a real struggle these days, but it is worth remembering that implementing the ‘comparable outcome’ system will only affect a relatively small number of students – those aiming to achieve the highest grades. As universities can now accept an unlimited number of students with AAB grades or higher, in reality there should be few students missing out on places because of the new system.

What concerns me more is the addition pressure that this ‘shifting goal post’ approach to assessment is putting on students at a time when many are making crucial decisions that they feel will affect their future unequivocally. For many, the chance to get into a particular university seems a once in a lifetime shot and to miss the mark is a devastating blow.

Those of us who are older and wiser know that this is not the case at all, far from it. There are retakes for one thing and each year thousands of students who weren’t accepted at their first place university accept places elsewhere and go on to thrive. However, when you are right at the epicentre of academic pressure it seems like nothing else matters and failing to achieve those highest of grades can be crushing. It is essential that the government sends out the message that there is a bright future for all of our young people and that includes those for whom the top grades are simply not achievable.

The media’s obsessive focus on the A/A* grades threatens to take the sheen off the B, C and D grade candidates who have worked just as hard and who care just as much about their futures. There are still plenty of university places available for these candidates, but you wouldn’t think it by reading the ‘Education’ section of the press on exam results day!

So to all of the Oxford Open Learning students worried by the latest announcements, I’d say genuinely try not to worry. With tenacity, resilience and self-confidence you can still achieve your goals – and having a Plan B is better than no plan at all.

Jane Bradley

Tutor

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