Statement regarding school exams and university admissions: The Fair Access Coalition

12th January 2021

As part of the Fair Access Coalition, upReach signed the following joint statement, which was included in The Telegraph ‘Letters to the Editor’ on 9th January 2021, available here.

Dear Editor

We are pleased that the Government has started setting out its initial thinking on how to replace exams within 48 hours of the new lockdown coming into effect. As charities working to support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to access higher education, we urge that these young people specifically must be a priority for Government as these plans develop. Some brief recommendations:

First, extra resource will be needed for schools to support young people to get ready for their transition to higher education. Teaching time must be protected – the quality of provision will suffer if teachers are pulled into firefighting. Preparing teacher assessed grades will bring extra work, so processes should be as close as possible to normal practice and normal formats. And teachers will need clear and timely guidance about what is expected of them.

Second, the Government needs to make provisions for transitional arrangements into higher education. This must reflect the fact that different young people have had their learning disrupted in different ways. Now more than ever, universities must take into account the context of young people’s applications – grades alone will reflect disrupted learning. There may well be extra information that schools have available that will be useful for universities, such as the number of days that students have missed due to self-isolation.

In addition to admissions decisions, there must be a focus on addressing young people’s learning needs. Many school-leavers will have gained qualifications with gaps in their learning and summer 2021 could be used as an opportunity to address those gaps. This may be provided through extension schooling, tuition or by universities developing more extensive induction programmes for new students to act as a supportive bridging experience. For young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in particular, the success or otherwise of this will be reflected in dropout rates.

Finally, young people need certainty to allow them to plan for and navigate what is already a stressful stage of life. For many, advance warning and the ability to plan in confidence will be more important than the finer details of the system. A good enough system agreed upon now and guided by teacher expertise would be better than a perfect system delivered at the last minute. But this cannot be an excuse to rush into bad choices. There is a balance to be struck – and it should be possible to have a plan consulted on and agreed by February half term.

With the benefit of a longer preparation time and the lessons from the exam chaos last year, the Government should be able to provide a fairer, clearer system that actively promotes equality of opportunity. Young people deserve and expect for us all to deliver on that prospect.


The Fair Access Coalition:

Nathan Sansom, CEO, The Access Project Anne-Marie Canning MBE, CEO, The Brilliant Club Laura Gray, CEO, Brightside Sam Holmes, CEO, Causeway Education Eleanor Harrison OBE, CEO, Impetus High Rayment-Pickard, Co-founder, IntoUniversity Johnny Rich, CEO, Push John Craven, CEO, upReach Rae Tooth, CEO, Villiers Park Educational Trust