Optometry courses welcome A-level grading decision

GCSE and A-level students will receive grades submitted by their teachers this year in place of exams that are unable to take place due to the pandemic

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Optometry schools have welcomed the Government’s plans for A-level and GCSE students to receive their teacher-assessed grades in 2021.

Speaking to OT, optometry courses and universities suggested the approach was “fair” and welcomed the clarity the decision provided for the application and admissions process. A number of the courses shared that they are seeing applications in consistent or higher numbers than in previous years, with expected admission numbers to be similar to last year.

With the majority of exams unable to take place due to the pandemic, the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, announced that students will instead receive grades submitted by their teachers. These will be based on evidence including mock exams, coursework, in-class assessments and essays, and the optional use of questions provided by exam boards.

Teachers will submit grades to exam boards by 18 June and the results days for GCSE, A-level and some vocational qualifications will be moved forward to the week of 9 August. This would allow additional time for the appeals process.

Schools and colleges will conduct checks to ensure consistency of judgements, and exam boards will also conduct checks through random sampling.

Revealing the plans, the Education Secretary said it would be the “fairest” system for pupils, enabling “those who know them best – their teachers – to determine their grades, with our sole aim to make sure all young people can progress to the next stage of their education or career.”

The decision marks a diversion from the approach taken by the Government last year to use an algorithm to grade students, in place of cancelled exams. In a U-turn decision taken after many students across the country reported seeing their results downgraded, students instead received grades submitted by their school or college.

Commenting on the recent announcement, Susie King, head of UK and EU admissions at Anglia Ruskin University, told OT: “In the current situation, we believe teacher assessed grades are the fairest way for students to receive an A-level award, and we welcome the clarity over the dates, the process, and the appeals procedure.”

The university has seen a 7.7% increase in applications to its optometry degree for entry in September 2021 and expects to make a similar amount of offers to last year.

Ms King explained: “Our admissions processes won’t change at this stage of the cycle, where we take into account a range of factors when deciding which applicants should receive an offer.”

The University of Highlands and Islands also welcomed the decision, with Alison MacPherson, head of optometry, telling OT: “An early decision on using teacher assessed grades is welcome as it avoids confusion from last minute changes.”

“The important thing is ensuring consistency in approach and that these students, who have had disruption to their learning over the last year and a half, are treated as fairly as possible,” Ms MacPherson said.

Moving the results days forward means the release date for SQA and A-level results will be the same for both this year, Ms MacPherson explained, adding: “This means that confirmation of offers can be done at the same time, although it will condense the turnaround for admissions teams into a shorter period of time.”

Cardiff University also welcomed the “clarity” the decision would provide, with a spokesperson adding that the university was pleased that the release of results for GCSE, A-level and select vocational qualifications would be aligned across nations.

The spokesperson told OT: “We strongly support the decision to couple when universities and students will be informed of results, we believe this is essential in providing clear and timely advice, guidance and support to students, particularly in light of the educational challenges they have faced this year.”

Moving the results day would also allow sufficient time for students to undertake the appeals process, for universities to carry out “fair and robust decision making” and put transition activities in place, the spokesperson added.

“We look forward to receiving further details on the practical arrangements in due course, including the plans that are being put in place for private candidates and other categories of students whose learning sits outside of the standard education system,” the spokesperson concluded.

The university confirmed that admissions numbers and applications are “consistent with that of previous years.”

Universities UK, the representative body for 140 universities across the country, supported the decision. A spokesperson for the organisation commented: “Universities recognise that this year's school leavers have borne the brunt of disruption caused by the pandemic. University admissions teams will pull out all the stops to make sure that this year's applicants get the opportunity to fulfil their potential at university.”

The organisation noted that there has been “more interest than ever in going to university this year,” adding that, if this means that a course is full, “universities will help students find suitable, alternative study choices.”