Unconditional Offers

Once again the question of unconditional offers for University places is a public debate. The usual system is to offer a place based on achieving some A level grades. An unconditional offer means that A level grades don’t matter. And there is plenty of evidence from UCAS statistics that sixth formers with unconditional offers do indeed think A level results no longer matter and underperform. School leaders are quick to write about how terrible unconditional offers are, but doubts are about whether they are worried about the young people or the school league tables.  Universities defend themselves saying unconditional offers can reduce stress and pressure at an otherwise very difficult time for young people. I find myself out of step with the popular view and see nothing wrong with unconditional offers. So let’s take a moment unpicking the debate.

A levels began as university entrance tests. As more young people have remained in sixth form education they have also been called on to provide an end point summary of school education. In trying to be both an entrance exam and an end point A levels have become very compromised in their purpose. In that context who can blame Universities wishing to interview young people, make judgments based on other test data and make an offer that does not involve A level results. The sixth form student can then focus on exams and doing their best, knowing that their place is assured. Less pressure and stress is surely a better system.

Until we get a better system of post A level admission to University I see no reason why unconditional offers should not improve that as part of the process. Which then brings us to the problem that we should be addressing, which is not the unconditional offers themselves but that students are under-performing when they have one. Do we really feel comfortable with the idea that young people need the pressure of an offer to do their best? Will the attitude of only trying when there are high stakes prevail into adult life? And is that really what we want as a society? If it isn’t we really need to address why those with unconditional offers are falling short, rather than worrying about whether the offers should exist at all.

About Philip Britton

Philip Britton is the Head of Foundation of Bolton School. 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. Follow at X: @Philip_Britton | View X/Twitter archive | Listen at: Exploring Bolton School | Social Mobility, Leadership & Future School Thinking | Strategic School Leadership with Philip Britton | Strategic School Leadership with Philip Britton