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Education Secretary Says It Was “Always The Plan" To Get A-level Results Down After Pandemic

Students have been told to expect lower grades at A Level than they were expecting by education secretary James Cleverly (Alamy)

4 min read

Education Secretary James Cleverly has suggested it was "always the plan" to bring A-level results down after two years of inflated teacher assessed grades during the pandemic.

Students across the UK will receive A-level results today. It is expected to be an extremely difficult year for pupils taking the exams this year to get into university, partly because the population of school leavers has grown, but also because universities over-recruited last year owing to sharp grade inflation.

Cleverly said students were given more "generous grades" in 2020 and 2021, having not had to sit formal exams, and warned this year’s cohort to expect lower grades than they might have hoped for.

Speaking to Sky News ahead of this year’s result being released, he said the government has been working with the exam regulator Ofqual, and “the plan was always to get those grades back to the kind of levels that we were seeing before the pandemic”.

“They were more generous, and I think it's legitimate that they were more generous during the pandemic, but it was always the plan to get them back," he explained.

"That is going to be seen this year so students might get slightly lower grades than perhaps they were expecting, but I think we should see the majority of students get into the institutions they want to.”

The university admissions body Ucas confirmed on Thursday morning that the number of students accepted onto UK degree courses has fallen this year, but it is still the second highest number on record.

A total of 425,830 people have had places confirmed so far, down 2 per cent on the same point in 2021, but is up 16,870 compared with 2019 when exams were last held.

Ucas also said the number of students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds to gain places on courses is 6,850 this year, up by 3,770 in 2019.

The admissions service said this translates to a narrowing of the gap between the most and least advantaged, with the ratio at 2.36 in 2019, 2.29 this year, and 2.34 in 2021.

Cleverly agreed this year’s set of A-level entrants are the “peak generation Covid”, with many having had their GCSE exams cancelled in 2020, as well as periods of remote learning and out of school due to Covid.

“This group of students had a really tough time, that’s why I congratulate them so much," he said. 

“We put adaptations in place, so we made sure that the exams were fair, we gave greater spacing between the exams, just in case students did contract Covid, which put pressure on the marking bodies, but they've stepped up to their responsibilities.

“But funnily enough it was the students themselves who were most vocal in their desire to ensure that they had qualifications which were fair but robust, and taken seriously by institutions and employers.

“Whether it's A-levels or the T-levels that are coming out this year or other vocational training, that’s what we've achieved.”

Cleverly also said there are no plans to raise the cap on the number of medical student admissions, but stressed the government is increasing NHS recruitment.

"The NHS has always relied significantly on medical professionals from overseas, and I doubt that that will change any time in my lifetime,” he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"We are recruiting more doctors and more nurses, we are training more homegrown medical talent. That is right.

"We are seeing those medical professional numbers go up, but, as I say, the nature of those incredibly highly technical vocational medical courses makes them different to other courses."

The Education Secretary also explained that medical courses in other countries often have "huge" fees for students, saying in the UK we “have chosen to make a different decision”.

He added: “We don't put the financial burden on the students themselves. The government heavily subsidises courses because the courses themselves are important and that is the trade-off.

"The cap means we don't impose the costs on the students themselves."

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