Should university places be awarded just on the outcome of A Level grades? | Portsmouth High School

Should university places be awarded just on the outcome of A Level grades?

This year according to major universities places through clearing have reached an all time high with some offering courses in subjects normally hugely over subscribed.

One of those is medicine. However, despite the current claims, this is not the first time a place to study to become a doctor has been available on results day through clearing. Nearly forty years ago my sister secured a place at a London medical school on the day she found out her A level results. She had been rejected from all the universities to which she had applied that year purely because she was retaking an A level following some inadequate teaching at her girls’ high school and she, along with the other vet and doctor wannabes, were sent to the boys’ grammar school to repeat the year.

On that glorious results day in August 1979 my father drove my sister to London and quite literally knocked on the door of the first medical school he encountered. An experienced admissions registrar looked at my sister’s results and after a short interview the rest, as they say, is history. On completion of her training she began living the dream she still lives as a rural practice GP.

It worries me every year as a teacher and now headteacher that excellent candidates are passed over for less capable students either on results’ day or even through the offer system. Currently to study medicine you need top grades in science subjects and to have carried out a range of work experience to demonstrate you know what working as a doctor entails. There are many more applicants than places and using academic results to sort and sift seems to be the fairest system.

However, I would challenge that view. Whilst it is important to have doctors with a level of intellect that enables them to do their job very well there are many students who are capable of studying medicine but miss out on that opportunity. Sometimes this is due to a one mark differential in one A level which leads to a grade lower than that offered for a place. A tightening up of the appeals and remark process announced far too late into the examination season this year does not instil great confidence that results this year will be fairly awarded. With young people’s futures resting on the outcome of A levels I wonder if it is time to abandon grades altogether and use marks instead? As most universities carry out additional testing anyway for popular courses, such as medicine, I would welcome applicants being awarded places not wholly reliant on the outcome of A levels.