Applications for a place at university should be made after exam grades are known. It does not make sense to offer a place on the basis of the chance of a result, rather than on an actual set of exam achievements.
There is a growing trend amongst sixth formers to delay application and apply via the UCAS clearing system, when grades are known. Choosing the university after actual results are known makes for a far more realistic choice on the part of students, rather than the universities choosing them.
UCAS research suggests that something in the region of 50% of predicted grades are, in any case, wrong. The current ritual of prediction is inaccurate and costly and wastes everyone’s time, both at the university admissions centres and in schools. Prediction invites prejudice, too, both for and against the individual. Offers based on predicted grades disadvantage students from poor backgrounds.
Of course, there are practical difficulties and many traditionalists will oppose change. But more significantly, the actual dates of the summer exam cycle will have to be changed. Either the timing of GCSE and A level exams sittings will have to be altered or the start dates of the universities’ autumn terms will have to be adjusted. Neither of these alternatives are likely to prove popular in schools or universities. Nevertheless, the fact remains that it does not make rational sense to offer a university place on the chance of a result instead of a certainty.
Terry Jones taught History to adult students taking Foundation courses at a College of Higher Education prior to their entry into full-time degree courses at Warwick and Coventry Universities. Since taking early retirement, he has travelled widely in Eastern Europe, pursuing a life-long interest in 19th and early 20th century European history. He has been a GCSE and "A" level tutor with OOL since 1996.