A-level results: What if I still don't have the place I want? And other questions


A-level and GCSE students in England will be given grades estimated by their teachers, rather than by an algorithm, after a government U-turn.

Experts Eddie Playfair and Catherine Sezen, senior policy managers at the Association of Colleges, are answering your questions.

Image source, Association of Colleges
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Catherine Sezen and Eddie Playfair offer personalised advice on what to do next

Can the universities cope with the massive increase in students achieving top grades now teacher-predicted results are accepted? Steve Cutts, Lewes

Now that we know that the grades predicted by teachers - also known as centre assessment grades, or CAGs for short - will stand, this means that there will be a five-point increase in A* grades and a 10-point increase in A grades or above.

University courses may well be able to manage the increased demand for high tariff courses, particularly if there is a relaxation of the cap on growth - called the student number controls.

I missed my first offer to study at Durham. Why can't international offers be rescinded to allow UK students to get places-for this year? Anonymous, Berkshire.

I'm so sorry you missed your firm offer. First of all it may be worth revisiting this with Durham in case the position has changed.

Universities are working hard to honour the offers they've made, whether UK or international, and Covid-19 has disrupted education for students across the world.

UK and international applicants are not really competing for the same places though, as the admissions and funding systems are different.

For example, the removal of Student Number Controls means that many universities could now offer more places to their UK students, and this does not apply to international students.

My son was awarded a grade D in English literature. His mock result was a C, and the CAG was an E. Under the triple lock system he could appeal to get a C based on his mock, would this still be the case? Paul, Essex

I'm afraid the triple lock system has been overtaken by events and your son's D will stand, since it is higher than the CAG. There may be some grounds for an appeal and it's worth discussing this with his college or school.

How will universities ensure that this year's grade inflation does not negatively impact next year's students when they apply? Matthew, Sutton.

There's no reason to expect that this year's higher-than-usual grades will impact the opportunities for next year's students.

Universities will be aware of the different grade profiles in different years and are likely to adjust their offers and decision-making accordingly.

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My daughter's place at medical school has been confirmed but is there now a chance that it could be taken away? The university has posted on its website that it will need to start the confirmation process again. Toni, Surrey.

If your daughter's offer has been confirmed this shouldn't be withdrawn. Students may have some opportunity to change their minds but confirmed offers should stand.

The government's announcement that it is considering lifting the cap on the number of medical student places may also help.

How do we receive our new grades? Zack, Bradford

As far we are aware, students awaiting their GCSE grades on Thursday will receive their CAG from their school or college - and students who received their A or AS-level results last Thursday will be reissued their CAG.

If students' calculated grades were higher than the CAG, their calculated grade will stand. If you received results last Thursday, the best thing to do is to contact your school or college. If you are expecting results this week, your school or college should confirm the process.

Is there not the possibility of teacher bias towards certain pupils when teacher estimates are used? Hannah, Chester

Schools and colleges have very thorough quality assurance systems in place to ensure that results are not biased. The grades given by teachers are moderated at department and centre level to ensure that they are as fair as possible.

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Pupils protesting outside Education Secretary Gavin Williamson's constituency office

Will teachers' grades now be granted to the downgraded BTec Level 3 Extended students? Anonymous, Kent

BTecs are structured very differently to A-levels, and so the approach to awarding them is also different. BTecs were not subject to the same statistical moderation process as A-levels. They comprise modular units that students complete and are assessed at regular stages during their course of study, so prior to March 2020, students had already "banked" graded units for their qualification.

These formed part of the evidence used to award grades for the externally assessed units and the final overall qualification grade. If you have individual concerns about BTec or other technical and vocational qualifications, the best thing to do is to contact your school or college.

How will the increased numbers of students going to university this year affect applications for next year? Paul, Henley-on-Thames.

Universities are used to dealing with fluctuations in numbers between years but at this stage it's impossible to tell whether the number of university places in 2021 will be affected at all.

Are there any safeguards for A-Levels and GCSEs taking place in 2021, given students will be at a disadvantage due to missing a significant amount of in-school teaching and assessments? Are we going to face a similar fiasco? Shamimur, London.

Students taking exams next summer will certainly have been impacted by the disruption this year - and of course further disruption can't be ruled out.

There have been some adaptations made to assessment and content for 2021 but the assumption is that public exams will go ahead next summer - the public health situation permitting.

If exams take place next year, the grading system should be more like a normal year, but there will be a case for some "leniency" to allow for disruption.

Please make a distinction between teacher predicted grades which are made for UCAS applications in December/January, and teacher assessed grades being used to determine exam results. Sangita, Oxfordshire.

You are absolutely right - this summer's Centre Assessed Grades are separate from the predicted grades used for UCAS or other purposes and they may not be the same.

The process for producing CAGs was careful and rigorous, and was subjected to internal moderation. It is these CAGs and rankings which were submitted to awarding organisations as part of this summer's process.

The "calculated" grades which were issued last week had been statistically adjusted resulting in 39% of them being downgraded. These have now mostly been superseded by the original CAGs where they are higher.

It's been a bit of a rollercoaster - but no one will have lower A-level grades than they got last week and many will have higher grades.

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My son narrowly missed out on his first choice, was accepted by his second choice, and is happy. Does he have to now take his first choice as the u-turn means he now meets the conditions of his offer? Anonymous, Surrey.

If your son has accepted this place and is happy with it he doesn't need to do anything more except perhaps confirm that decision with the university concerned.

We can't give a legal opinion on that, but universities are doing their best to honour all the offers they made - including where a student's grade has now changed.

They will need a few days to sort this out but they will have been helped by the lifting of student number controls which would have limited how many places they could fill.

What about children who were supposed to do A level resits this year? Where do they stand? Will their year be wasted again? Sophia, London.

As far as we know, the autumn series is still going ahead so students will have the opportunity to take exams this autumn as well as next summer - so the "resit" option is still available where it makes sense.

What about those students who took the International baccalaureate? These students also need fairness and equity. When will their plight be addressed? Sarah.

These are questions which should be raised directly with the IB Organisation. We know that Ofqual has asked it to scrutinise the grades awarded this summer to ensure they have been delivered in line with Ofqual's new process.

I'm sure that receiving universities will want to be as flexible and helpful in responding to candidates with IB Diplomas as they were with A-level candidates.

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Some BTec students don't have their results, but what will happen to the ones who were downgraded? Kirsty Stainsby, Bridgewater

We gather that there have been some delays with some BTec awards and we know that Pearson - the company which runs BTecs - is working to resolve this. We think that only 0.5% of BTec centre assessed grades were adjusted downwards and it's not clear whether they will now be moved up.

Will they change the results for vocational students as well? Sarah, Beverley

Ofqual has just published an update on vocational and technical qualifications. Although calculated results have been issued for many vocational and technical qualifications, in only a very few cases has the same kind of statistical standardisation process of CAGs been used and so Monday's announcement shouldn't impact on the majority of vocational qualifications.

You can find more information on the Ofqual website. If you still have any questions about your result I would suggest that you speak to your school or college.

Have Scottish students with enhanced grades taken the places of English/Welsh/NI students for full top degree courses such as medicine? Gill, Sleaford

It's possible that more students with Scottish Highers might have a small impact on places available in English universities, but the difference in scale between the two countries probably means this will not be significant overall. I am sure universities will want to honour the offers they've made.

Image source, Reuters
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This was the year of the results without any exams being taken

Why is there no mention anywhere of all the home-educated students who have come out of this with nothing? Carolyn Jackson, Leeds

It's been clear from the start that unfortunately some private candidates would not be able to receive CAGs, and this is obviously far from ideal. It may be possible for them to progress on to the course they want if they can be assessed by the institution they wish to join. There is also the option of taking exams in the autumn which will result in grades which can be used for progression.

Can I switch back to my firm university choice if I successfully appeal against my grades, now that my insurance university place has been confirmed? Anon, Nottingham

You will need to discuss this with both your firm and insurance universities as soon as possible, now that you know that your CAG will be your final grade.

My son accepted a place in clearing based on his awarded grades. Is there any way he can be released from this university place now he has better grades? Jo Evans

Now that your son knows what his final grade is, he should discuss this with both his first choice university and also with the university he applied to through clearing.

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What happens if the teachers' predictions are lower than the already given grade? Linda Brice

Calculated grades were higher than CAGs for 2.3% of all entries, and these will be honoured.

Can I accept an offer to a university and still retake the exam, so I don't have poor results on my CV? Michael, Ascot

Yes, it is possible to accept an offer and take the exam. Your school or college will be able to advise you on the best option.

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If your son or daughter is 18 then the college cannot share information with you unless your child agrees, as they are now classified as an adult. They should be able to tell you how results will be sent out, or whether your son or daughter can collect them from the college.

The college will be able to provide information, advice and guidance to your son or daughter to help them think about next steps. This might help as the basis of a chat with your child.

I've been given an alternative offer (including foundation year) for my firm choice and my insurance had accepted me. How long can I wait before replying and accepting my insurance option? - Nisrine, London

The best thing to do is to ask the university how long they will keep the place open while you weigh up the options. Universities are being very flexible this year. The alternative offer from your firm choice, including a foundation year, is of course an extra year.

If you really want to go to that university it is a good option, but the other university course may also be right for you. Give the university a call and then you will know how long you have got to consider both.

My daughter has been home-schooled for the last three years. How, or does, she get results? Megan, Wisbech

Your daughter might get results if the school or college that was going to enter her had sufficient evidence (course work for example) to give her a centre assessed grade. If not there will be an opportunity for your daughter to take an exam in the autumn. The school or college will have more details about that.

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If we're not happy with our results, can we resit Year 13? Emma-Louise, Hackney

You need to discuss this with the college or school you attended in 2019-20 to consider the various options open to you. Simply repeating a year is not generally recommended unless there are exceptional circumstances - but of course 2020 has been pretty exceptional!

If you have the possibility of progressing to a higher level - for example university - that might be the best option, but don't make any final decisions without getting support and advice from your college or school first.

Are there strategies in place to avoid bias against disability? Ronit, Watford

When producing CAGs, centres will have predicted how a student would have performed assuming they had received all the additional support and access arrangements which they require because of a disability.

Hopefully, any mock processes would also have included that additional support and this is definitely worth discussing with your centre.

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Will having "corona grades" for exams we didn't sit undermine us when we go for jobs? Anon

The system this year was designed to make sure that the class of 2020 was not disadvantaged, and to produce outcomes which are broadly similar to previous years. So we expect the national grade profile to reflect this.

This should provide reassurance for employers, universities and colleges that this year's grades have an equivalent value to those of previous years.

If an A-level student chooses to sit a real exam, will the universities treat those and exams taken next summer equally? Janet, Cheshire

The autumn exams are an opportunity for students entered this summer to take an exam. The grade they are awarded will have equal value and so this can inform any applications they are making to university in 2021.

The current plan is for exams next summer to go ahead as normal, with a few alterations, and they should be seen as equivalent to any other year.

I am a senior university lecturer and cannot understand why A-level students could not have undertaken exams electronically? Anon, Cheshire

In the future this is certainly worth exploring, but given the timeframe this year it would have been very difficult to ensure that all students would have been adequately prepared to undertake exams online. Not all students will have had appropriate equipment or spaces to undertake exams.

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