I wrote this article for my college magazine in Spring 1987 and it was the most controversial one that I did; the Principal almost censored it. I would not have included it here, except for the fact that the problems with the predicted grades system are still here 21 years later. It says a lot about the UK and its problems that it can do nothing to resolve such issues over such a long period.
What happens in the UK is that you apply for university before you have sat your 'A' Level examinations (or submitted course work) so the universities ask teachers in your school/college to make predicted grades, basically a guess at what you are going to get in the examination. Now teachers are often very poor at guessing and they also allow a lot of prejudice to creep in about particular types of pupil. Generally working class children and 'outsiders' (whether that means someone from abroad or simply pupils from another region, especially if their accent is different) are expected to do worse than even the grades they may be getting in class or mock examinations, whereas local and/or middle class children are expected to pull out a better performance on the day. Universities offer places on the basis of predicted grades, but you do have to attain at least the points (each grade is allocated certain points) or the profile like AAA or BCC, say across three 'A' Levels, often with particular subjects specified. However, if you have received no university offers because your predicted grades were low then no matter how well you actually do you are at a strong disadvantage in getting a university place, especially on the type of course you originally wanted to do.
There have been attempts to move away from this system to pupils applying for university places after they have got their examination grades. However, inherent conservatism in universities has meant that even now it has not come about and working class applicants in particular are still suffering as a result. See these articles of recent months:
At my college the staff seemed to be even more prejudiced about students and certainly very pessimistic about their prospects that was even the norm. The cases listed here were about real students who must now be in their 40s and one wonders how their lives turned out. The teachers concerned will be now in their 60s-70s and you do wonder how many people's lives they made a lot harder because of the small-minded attitude that was so prevalent in my particular corner of secondary education. Effort and Achievement were the indicators given on our annual school reports but we also received a predicted grade of the expected outcome for that subject and these then became what was passed to universities. UCCA was the organisation that handled applications to universities; in 1992 it combined with PCAS which handled applications to polytechnics to create UCAS which is the current organisation for dealing with applications to higher education. In the UK the 'public' sector of education means a small group of elite fee-paying schools; 'state' schools are what public schools are known as in other countries.
For me, this was not an issue because I did far worse than my predicted grades had been and so I had to turn down the offers made to me. I could have gone to Birmingham Polytechnic and done BA Business Studies (Finance with German) and if I had my life would have been very different, I am sure.
Predicted grades for examinations, especially 'A' levels are a bane for both teachers and students. The grades need to be considered carefully and fluctuation on the level of work makes their prediction all the more difficult. However, these predicted grades are taken more notice of than Effort and Achievement as they are seen as being less abstract. Many consider the predicted grades, first, over the other assessments. It is argued that predicted grades are of little importance, early in a student's time at college, and act only as a guide. This is probably true, but they are of the utmost importance in the Second Year, when UCCA and PCAS forms are being completed, as predicted grades can affect the whole of a student's future, as offers and rejections are dependent on them.
What is my accusation? It is that this college seems to suffer badly from pessimism, when compared with other establishments. This is not wild speculation, but the result of investigation into a number of similar places and their policies, covering the public, private and state sectors of education. Before I continue with my two cases, taken from the college, which together cover both the Science and Arts subjects, I must point out that there is no opposition to predicted grades which are given with assessements to the students being perssimistic, but those on confidential forms for universities, which are charges against the student, that he or she is unaware of.
My first case conserns a student who despite falling only a couple of percent short of an 'A' in the mock examination had been predicted a 'C' on the UCCA forms. Similarly in another subject the student has consistent work of 'A' and 'B' grades, yet again received the same low predicted grade. Unsurprisingly this student suffered all rejections.
In the Arts area, anothe student of similar standard received two rejections known to be due to low predicted grades and probably a further rejection for the same reason. It has been suggested that these low predicted grades were the result of some original views.
The reader may argue that it is right to be realistics, but these predicted grades are on confidential reports and the student has no access to this vital information. Surely the student should be told if their situation has apparently deteriorated so far.
A further argument could be that the student is no worse off, a students from other colleges are in a similar situation. This view in wrong. Predicted grades are usually increased one level at the majority of similar establishments. Why? The answer is that it is easier for a student to get a place at University or Polytechnic with less than the offered grades (which are generally lower than the predictions) than it is for someone who has received more than predicted, especially if they have received numberous rejections. In addition University Admissions Officers come to expect that the actual grades will be lower than the predicted ones, so that they see low predicted grades they believe that the student's work is sub-standard and do not see it at its true level.
My conclusion is to urge this college to play the "game" of predicted grades by the same rules as everyone else.