University Entry reform

In the final few weeks of November we turn our attention to the final deadlines for University applications in school.

It is an important and sometimes emotional time for everyone – after all, the pupils are thinking about where they will live when they leave home and what they will be doing. These are big decisions.

Yet this year a relatively new trend continues that is having a distorting effect on Sixth Form studies and University choice. It is what has been called ‘Offer High, Accept Low’.

Let me explain what the issue is. As Universities have competed for the best students over recent years, each wishes to make itself look better, more selective and more attractive to the very best. This means they put up their standard offers – a course that might once have recruited at BCC may now recruit at ABB. All at once they seem to be a better University. After all, to go there, you need high grades. Then results day comes and it has become all too apparent that many who had offered high grades, when faced with the reality of filling their places, accept pupils with far lower grades.

It might seem this doesn’t matter – after all the pupil has still got on to the course they wanted. But think of the collateral damage along the way.

First there is the need to have those higher grades predicted, the cause of endless angst amongst pupils, parents and teachers. Then there is the stress in aiming to achieve those higher grades. Many Sixth Form students will be sitting on offers that require the very highest grades for University entry. The impact of that challenge is real and has its consequences.

Try to imagine explain our University entrance system to an alien, based as it is on predicting grades. Why don’t we just wait? For many years a system of University entry after A level grades are known (Post Qualification Application) has been discussed. It always fails due to vested interests in various aspects of the familiar system. One day common sense will prevail and we will move to that new process – I hope for the sake of pupils, parents, teachers and schools it is sooner rather than later.


This blog first appeared in the Bolton News publication ‘The Post’

About Philip Britton

Philip Britton is Headmaster of Bolton School Boys’ Division. He was brought up on Tyneside, took a first in physics at Oxford and did teacher training at Cambridge. He worked as physics teacher, Head of Physics and Deputy Head at Leeds Grammar School before moving to Bolton in 2008. In 2010 he was awarded an MBE for services to physics and is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics where he has been much involved in physics education, encouraging teachers to encourage the next generation of physicists.