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Beyond Warwick

Changes in university entrance has far reaching impacts – even for Year 7.

With all the focus on remote schooling, changing arrangements for this summer’s GCSE and A Level examinations and the uncertainty of when we will return to school, it would easy to assume that nothing else was happening in the educational world. Yet one new development, announced by the government last November, has the potential to significantly change the school curriculum as we know it.

On the back of an 18 month review by university leaders in the UK, the government has announced its intention to consider a post-qualifications admissions (PQA) system for those taking A Levels. The new system could be in place by 2023-24 – so potentially our current Year 10 or 11 cohort could be the first pupils not to apply to university before they have received their A Level results.

This is welcome news. Teachers have been calling for such a system for years. Even UCAS – the body administering university applications – have been recommending its introduction. And it is not difficult to see why. UCAS data for 2019 shows 79% of 18-year-olds in the UK accepted to university with at least 3 A levels had their grades over-predicted.

While this may seem a shocking statistic, an insight into university offers and the role predicted grades plays in the process helps us understand the story behind the figures. Until relatively recently, A Level exams were modular – papers could be taken up to 4 times in some cases before a final grade was awarded. Universities responded to modularity by increasing the grade requirements for courses. Degrees that previously only required ABB to gain place, now had the tariff of A*AA.

The return to linearity of A Levels over the last 2-4 years has not seen these high grade requirements diminish. Fortunately, 75% plus of our applicants still get accepted at their first choice university, but this only adds to the uncertainty of the application process trying to second guess which universities will be lenient on results day.

Moreover, universities have become more aggressive in attracting applicants and in so doing putting pressure onto schools. It is not unusual for universities to suggest to potential applicants that they should get their schools to raise their predicted grades. For more on this read this article:

So a change to PQA will be a change for the better. Students can focus on getting their grades without worrying about the UCAS application process and universities will have to be far clearer in their entry requirements.

But the change to PQA is not all about university admissions. For some years now, there has been much educational debate about the validity and suitability of GCSEs. For example:

Some schools have already ditched GCSEs in favour of their own qualifications. For example, Bedeals School where students take five GCSEs in core subjects of English, maths, science and languages and choose from the school’s own assessed courses in subjects from geography and philosophy to ancient civilisations and outdoor work.

While most schools have been reluctant to drop GCSEs, especially while they play an important part in the university application process, the move to PQA could now make their role redundant. Already a number of schools are looking at alternatives:

But while it may be prudent to wait for PQA to arrive before removing some GCSEs from the Year 10 and 11 curriculum, this has not stifled the debate on curriculum change. At Warwick we have always looked to adapt the curriculum (albeit within the context of an academic school) to prepare boys for the world beyond the classroom. Recent changes have included the introduction of Critical Thinking in Year 8, the opportunity to gain an accredited certificate in Philosophy in Year 10, a focus on IT as well as programming skills in computing and a more integrated cultural and linguistic approach to the study of languages in Year 7, where this year for the first time, pupils are taking two MFL but with a strong emphasis on discovering more about the culture, history and geography of a different country.

We also recognise, however, that in a post COVID world, the skill set required for young people today may require us to look more carefully and more innovatively at what we are offer and how we equip our students for adult life. While some are obvious – for example, I am sure conducting interviews and meetings remotely is something we will all be exposed to far more in the future – there are other skills that students will need to be successful. These may range from giving presentations, having the confidence to debate in public, understanding current political and ethical issues such as equality, diversity and the environment to lessons in personal finance and what a post-Brexit world will really mean.

There are, no doubt, many more aspects to consider and we would be interested to hear what skills and topics you feel we need embed into our curriculum. PQA may well be the catalyst for a change in approach that provides an opportunity to rethink how we prepare our students for the world beyond Warwick.

Dr Chapman, Senior Deputy Head