Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top British universities 'ignoring final High School grades' in race to sign up bright students

Leading universities have been accused of undermining A-levels by accepting students before they sit their final exams in a “desperate” rush to fill places.

Research by the Telegraph shows universities are preparing to make increasing numbers of “unconditional offers” to sixth-formers next year.

Top research institutions including Birmingham, Lancaster, Nottingham, Leicester, Sussex and Queen Mary, University of London, will admit students en masse in some subjects without waiting for results in August.

Numbers are expected to significantly exceed the 12,000 unconditional offers made across the UK this year, with one university alone saying it will make 10,000 in 2015.

The move coincides with a government decision to abolish all restrictions on student recruitment in England for the first time in 2015 – creating a free market in undergraduate admissions.

It has led to intense competition between universities to sign up the most talented sixth-formers before they are attracted to opposing institutions.

In most cases, admissions tutors will make places available to candidates based on past performance in GCSEs and their predicted A-level grades, meaning students will win places even if they go on to fail their summer exams.

Universities insist the move is intended to reward students with potential while taking the pressure off teenagers in the final year of the sixth-form.

But there are fears that it will lead to a dramatic dip in performance in the last few months of school as students effectively “give up” on their A-levels.

A recent study by admissions experts warned that the system may provoke an “environment of reduced effort” where students “might stop trying hard”.

It was also claimed it could lead to "loss of credibility" at top universities and the sense that academics are "desperate to fill places".

One student told researchers: “If I was given an unconditional offer I wouldn’t bother working for my A-levels”.

According to UCAS, just over 20 universities made a record 12,000 unconditional offers between them to students starting courses this autumn. It represented a dramatic four-fold rise in just 12 months.

In 2012, Birmingham became the first institution to use the practice in a coordinated way by making 1,000 offers across 12 courses. This year, unconditional offers will be made to some 3,000 students – one-in-10 of the university’s total – in more than 50 separate subjects.

This includes chemistry, economics, English, geography, history, maths, modern languages and sociology.

For the first time this year, Lancaster has introduced a co-ordinated unconditional offer scheme, promising talented students places on 18 courses. It followed a trial in two departments last year.

Other institutions adopting unconditional offers in a systematic way in 2015 include two Russell Group universities – Nottingham and Queen Mary – along with Aston, Leicester, Sussex, Leeds Beckett and Birmingham City.

Most students have to make universities their “firm choice” on UCAS application forms as a condition of accepting an offer – effectively tying them into a place up to six months before courses start.

Aston said it was piloting an unconditional offer scheme “to reward academic excellence based on past performance and predicted grades” in one or two subjects in 2015.

Leicester said its unconditional offer programme was “not a short-cut and does not mean you can sit back and ignore your A-levels”, adding: “We will only make unconditional offers to students who we are absolutely certain will work hard and achieve excellent grades.”

Sussex said it offered unconditional places in all subjects other than medicine but insisted only the brightest 10 per cent of applicants were chosen based on previous GCSE results and AS-levels.

The move towards unconditional offers has been made as the government abolishes all controls on student recruitment for English universities in 2015.

It has already led to a more intense competition between institutions, with universities offering scholarships worth up to £10,000 and lucrative inducements such as free iPads, sports club membership and cheap accommodation to attract applicants.

But the unconditional offer system has been criticised by academics.

A report from Supporting Professionalism in Admissions – a university advisory group – suggested the system could have benefits, including acting as a way to increase student numbers and taking the pressure off sixth-formers as they approach their exams.

But it also listed a series of “threats” posed by the system. This included “perceived loss of credibility and face” and the possibility that universities’ “league table position may suffer if grades lower”.

It also said it may encourage an “environment of reduced effort” in the sixth-form.

Around 75 per cent of students and teachers responding to a SPA survey admitted the system meant sixth-formers “might stop trying hard” in the final year. Almost four-in-10 said universities making large numbers of unconditional offers were “desperate to fill places”.

One teacher told researchers: “I have seen students drop out of our programme once an unconditional offer has been received as they feel that it is pointless carrying on; they have nothing to gain.”

But another said: “It would take the pressure off students during their A-level year, which might mean they’d perform better anyway.”

Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: “There is a real danger that this will lead to the final year being wasted. If final results no longer carry the weight you thought they would it is inevitable that many students are going to coast.”

But David Willetts, the former Universities Minister, and architect of the new admissions rules, said: “It all makes for a more competitive system and it’s to be welcomed. Students have much more choice than they had the in the past.”


Calls to open a large number of selective schools in Britain

Grammar schools should be brought back en masse to ensure that they do not become the “preserve of the middle classes”, the headteacher of a leading private school has said.

Responding to news that Britain’s first new grammar in 50 years is likely to be approved next month, Andrew Halls, the headmaster of King’s College School in southwest London, said he was “indifferent” about the idea of opening a small number of grammar schools.

He said he would support the opening of a large number of grammars, alongside well-resourced secondary schools and technical colleges, fulfilling the “vision” of the 1944 Education Act.

However, he admitted that the reintroduction of the original legislation –drafted by Conservative politician Rab Butler – was “never going to happen” due to the lack of political support.

Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, looks set to approve a new grammar school in the town of Sevenoaks, officially an “annexe” of the existing Weald of Kent school nine miles away.

Mr Halls told The Daily Telegraph: “The problem with grammar schools is that they have become so rare, which means that they are now very much the preserve of the middle classes.

“If you look at the statistics, the average grammar school has fewer than three per cent of candidates on free school meals.

“They are fantastic schools and I

would not wish them gone, but if they are going to come back, they ought to come back in vast numbers, not just in privileged boroughs.

“Grammar schools only make sense if you are also looking after less academic children well – that is what the Education Act was trying to create, although it is not what it created.” Mr Halls went to Shenley Court School, a Birmingham comprehensive, recently rebuilt as Shenley Academy.

His father was the headmaster of Saltley Grammar School, now Saltley School, which was recently embroiled in the “Trojan horse” affair, a plot to spread Islamist teaching in a number of state schools in the West Midlands.

Mr Halls spoke of the “working-class community” supported by his father’s school, which now finds it difficult to access similar institutions due to competition from middle-class parents, who inflate property prices and pay for costly tutoring.

King’s College School, which charges nearly £20,000 per year, was named The Sunday Times independent school of the year, with the judges praising its dedication to music, sport, drama and community service alongside academic work.

Mr Halls approved of Nicky Morgan’s plans to invest £3.5m in extracurricular activities as a “step in the right direction”, but noted that the money “would not go very far”.

He also lauded university technical colleges, which offer a skills-based curriculum, describing them as the best way of including vocational education in the UK schools system


Australia: Queensland teaching graduates heading to UK after failing to land job locally

QUEENSLAND teaching graduates are heading to the UK in droves, with nine out of 10 failing to get a job with the state’s education department.  About 230 teaching graduates this year have been offered and accepted a permanent position with the Department of Education — despite more than 2080 applying for a job.

Almost 590 of the graduates from 2014 were offered and accepted temporary positions.

But recent reports out of England have suggested there could be a deficit of almost 30,000 teachers in 2017 with Queensland teachers rushing to fill the positions.

Mitch Jones, who recruits Australian teachers to work in the UK, said there was a rush to attract not only experienced teachers but also new graduates.  “The demand for relief teachers are also so high we can guarantee every teacher regular relief work each week,” he said.  “Some teachers also choose to work casually so they can spend more time travelling through Europe.”

The agency, Protocol Education, works with about 4000 public, religious and private schools across England, and currently sends over about 500 Australian teachers each year.

The Queensland Education Department has an active applicant pool of 13,917 seeking employment for next year, the number a combination of graduates from Queensland, interstate, overseas and general experienced teacher applicants.  More than 2080 of the applicants are straight out of university.

Teaching graduate Kristen Doherty is heading to Milton Keynes in the UK next year after studying a Bachelor of Primary Education, specialising in middle years.  “I am so excited, it’s going to be so good,” she said.  “I wanted to do a bit of exploration for me.”’

She said she was extremely nervous about the move but had studied up on the curriculum for her future Year 6 class.

Queensland Teachers Union president Kevin Bates said graduates were often lured overseas for a taste of adventure.  “Some people are finding it’s difficult to get work and not willing to move outside the southeast corner,” he said.  “The other reason is that people, particularly Gen Y, are very much into this idea you go and work overseas for a few years — it’s a rite of passage.”

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said Queensland schools were under a strong plan.  “We are working hard to make Queensland the best place to live, work and raise a family,” Mr Langbroek said.

“There is always demand for high-achieving professionals to teach in our state schools.  “We appoint a large number of teachers each year and have a range of initiatives to attract the best teachers to our schools, including those in remote locations.”


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