News from UCAS this morning about the idea of post-result applications triggered a Scottish grump. I am not Scottish, but as soon as you have lived here for a bit you develop the small-partner paranoia thing. You are watching TV and some Holywood starlet plonks down on the chat show couch and the host says “Welcome to English TV” and the starlet says “I love England !”. You start waving at the TV and shouting HELLO we are here too !
Anyhoo. So anyway. UCAS are flying a kite, wondering if things could be a bit simpler if “UK university applications” were made after A-level results were known. The problem of course is that the timing is a bit tight. Maybe A-levels will have to be three weeks earlier. Listening to this on Beeb Radio 4, I was assuming that any moment somebody would mention the fact that Scottish students applying to Scottish Universities can apply on the basis of their Highers results while they are still doing their Advanced Highers year, and a large fraction get offers on the basis of their Highers. Sometimes you put a condition on the Advanced Higher , but a large fraction at least are sorted in advance. So it seems like we already solved this problem.
Not a dicky bird. The guardian has an interestingly different spin on it, but still no Scottish perspective.
It’s also fairly common (or was when I was at school) for students to take extra highers or re-do previous ones in 6th year. I knew quite a lot of people who got offers conditional on their 6th year highers.
In any case the irony for English students is rather wonderful. UCAS is arguing that the current admissions system favours well-off applicants. And the £9K tuition fee doesn’t?
Andy: exactly right. When England split A-levels in two and introduced AS/A2, it seemed they were well on the road to converging with the Scottish system. So why can’t most English universities make unconditional offers based on the AS outcomes?
But I suppose we should be honest and admit that Scottish universities don’t admit English students based on AS’s – a bit illogical, given that we are happy to use highers. Maybe this shows there is failure in both directions to understand each other’s systems: we always castigate the English for failing to appreciate that Advanced Highers are harder than A-levels, and we ought to set an example by using AS results consistently for admissions North of the border.
I suspect that the subtlety – in Scotland at least – is that we would like to use Advanced Highers but feel that we can’t because not all Scottish schools offer Advanced Highers or don’t offer the right Advanced Highers (or it is difficult for students to take 3). To be fair, we therefore make offers based on a student’s Higher grades. In England, all students who want to go to University do A-levels and so we make conditional offers based on their predicted A-level grades.
I thought the difference was that Scottish universities were set up to teach the equivalent of the A2 component, adding an extra year to their degree programmes, but enabling them to take students who have not taken Advanced Highers. Since English universities have not been funded to teach the extra year, we were not in a position to take students in based on their AS level results, because we have no mechanism for putting things right if they bomb at A2.
Based on the rate at which many 17-year-olds are growing up (or, in some cases, doing the opposite), I would be rather nervous about making offers based on AS-levels: even with the full A-level result obtained immediately prior to coming to university, it is pretty challenging to identify those who will thrive at university-level physics.
Mike – good points, but I don’t think it has to be entirely based on AS level. Probably students with the strongest AS results would be safe bets and get an unconditional; others would get a conditional. Then at least you could sort maybe half the population in advance
It’s a nice idea, but I can see at least a couple of problems.
First, many candidates would end up with a mix of conditional and unconditional offers. Since the conditional ones would usually be the more prestigious, they would probably aspire to go to those, which means they would need an insurance process as now, which might well be an unconditional offer. We would then end up with much the same uncertainty hanging over both candidates and universities as now. Plus, since no institution wants to be the insurance choice, it would factor into the “arms race” on offers that better institutions would be less inclined to make unconditional offers based on AS results, again forcing the candidates to play a guessing game that they really should not have to play.
Second, I suspect there is a significant cohort of students who work hard at A2 to make the offer for the place they want to go. Remove this incentive, and they will coast to a poor result at A-level because it doesn’t matter any more. They then arrive at university ill-prepared for the higher level of workload that we expect of them, so will fail even though they are quite capable of succeeding given the right incentives while still technically children.
Mike, your latter point is essentially why we would like to use Advanced Higher grades for our offers, because we have a large number of students who get very good Higher grades but don’t perform as well at Advanced Highers because they already have (or are expecting) an unconditional offer from a Scottish University. The problem is, there is no easy way to do this fairly at the moment. What do you do if someone can only do 2 Advanced Highers at their school, while others do 3. What about those who go to university straight after Highers. It’s not straightforward and so to be fair, offers at typically made based only on the Higher grades.
But don’t you admit straight to second year with AH? So you could make offers to Year 1 based on Highers at a particular level, or to Year 2 for those offering Advanced Highers at some other level, which doesn’t seem to introduce any inequity since they are offering a different entry point, but still gives an incentive to do well in AHs for those taking them. For those only able to take 2 AHs, you could make the offer higher than for those taking 3 or only make an offer if they have done particularly well in Highers, as we do this side of the border in those cases where students are for some reason only taking 2 A-levels if they have done particularly well at AS level.
Yes, those with good AH can go straight to year 2. However, the AH grades are only considered during the offer phase if someone has applied for direct entry to year 2. If they’ve applied for entry to year 1, the offer is based only on their Higher grades, even if they are doing (or planning to do) AH. This is the case even if their AH grades are predicted to be good enough for direct entry to year 2. One might hope that students would still work hard at AH or take subjects appropriate for their chosen degree (maths for example in the case of a physics) and would potentially try to get grades that would allow them direct entry to year 2. The evidence, however, suggests that this is often not the case and there is certainly a sense that it would be useful to find some way to encourage students to put more effort into their AH work, for their and our benefit.
Although I accept Ken’s point that not all schools offer Advanced Highers, I do think that making offers on the basis of the penultimate year’s school results is generally a bad idea. At the risk of gross oversimplification, I have the impression (teachers please comment) that at Advanced Higher students begin to be introduced to the idea of thinking for oneself, rather than being told what to do. This may well be true for the last year at A level. Since you certainly do need to be able to think for yourself at University, if you coast at Advanced Higher because you don’t need the grades, you arrive at University poorly prepared and more likely to struggle.
Alan, I certainly don’t disagree. The main issue seems to be how to do it fairly. Do you accept a student with Highers who can’t do suitable Advanced Highers, but insist that another student (who has equivalent Higher grades) must attain a certain minimum set of grades at Advanced Highers?
To a certain extent, as someone who didn’t grow up here, I find it odd that Scotland doesn’t have a final school year that is standard across the country. It seems to me that the solution would be to invest in providing Advanced Highers everywhere. This would certainly make university applications easier to judge and would probably save money in the university sector, even if it cost more to provide secondary school education.
I couldn’t agree with you more that making advanced highers available to everyone is a very sensible solution.