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Call for university applications overhaul as report reveals just 16% of predicted A-level results are correct

8 December 2016

Just one in six (16%) predicted A-level results turns out to be correct, reveals a new report released today.

The report analysed the results of 1.3m young people over three years* and found that three-quarters (75%) of estimated grades were "over-predicted" with students failing to reach the mark their teachers predicted. Around one in 10 (9%) of grades were under-predicted as students did better than predicted.

UCU said the findings added weight to calls for a complete overhaul of the UK's university applications system that currently sees students apply to university based on their predicted grades.

UCU said it was time the UK employed the same system as the rest of the world and allowed students to apply with firm results not predictions that the union says have been exposed as poor guestimates. The union stressed the report, by Dr Gill Wyness of the UCL Institute of Education for UCU, was a criticism of a broken system, not the hard-working teachers tasked with the "impossible job" of grade predicting.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'This report exposes the vast majority of predicted grades as guestimates, which are not fit to be the basis on which young people and universities take key decisions about their futures.

'This report is a damning indictment on a broken system, not the hard-working teachers tasked with the impossible job of trying to make predictions. The results strongly support our call for a complete overhaul of the system, where students apply after they receive their results.

'It is quite absurd that the UK is the only country that persists with using such a broken system.'

The report found that while state schools were most likely to over-predict, further analysis revealed that the grades of the most able students from disadvantaged backgrounds were most likely to be underestimated.

UCU said a post-qualifications admission (PQA) system would also abolish the need for unconditional offers for university places. The union said pressuring youngsters to accept unconditional offers was unethical and there were fears that some students may become less focused once they had a place secured.

Key findings of the report include:

  • just 16% of applicants' grades were predicted correctly 
  • 75% of applicants are over-predicted
  • 9% were under-predicted 
  • 21% of AAB applicants have their scores under-predicted compared to 9% of all applicants
  • 24% of AAB applicants from lower income backgrounds are under-predicted compared to 20% of AAB applicants from the highest income backgrounds
  • a greater proportion of over-predicted students went through clearing to obtain their place
  • under-predicted applicants are 10 percentage points more likely than applicants whose grades were accurate or over-predicted to have applied to a university for which they are overqualified
  • high achieving, under-predicted applicants are less likely than high achieving applicants who are accurately predicted to apply to top tariff institutions by 9 percentage points.

A UCU report released last year demonstrated how popular a radical overhaul would be with staff involved with university applications with 70% backing the shift to a PQA system.

* The researchers analysed the top three A-level results from all participants who sat A-levels in 2013, 2014 and 2015 went on to higher education through the UCAS system. This involved 1,356,055 young people (roughly 452,000 entrants per year).

Last updated: 12 December 2016