Monday, January 10, 2011

The 'relevant' information for selecting students for Higher Education

Am so hopping mad, I've come on to blog when what I really want to do is check for that still-outstanding email confirmation for Much Ado tickets.

Priorities Lisa, priorities.


I'm going to quote the line that has just wound me up (the rest of the letter from Dr. Kathy Fawcett is pretty much okay, but this particular line made me yell in the kitchen cooking tea)
Universities rightly select the best students on the basis of the only relevant information – exam results.

No, they do NOT.

Not only are exam results not the "only relevant information", but Universities do NOT select on the basis of them.

They select on the basis of PREDICTIONS on A-levels (and sometimes equivalent qualifications) which are not necessarily based solely on examination results. They also select on the basis of GCSEs (which are often used as a key indicator used for A levels prediction scores - though why, I've never understood). Some more enlightened Universities also look at the context within which qualification achievements and predictions are being gained --- when (inverted commas) "so many" are predicted/achieve top grades how else to distinguish between candidates? I'm not saying all get it right, but...

My underlying frustration is that selection is not on the "basis of the only relevant information – exam results", selection is the thing that comes first to making an offer --- actual places are on the basis of results, but if you're already out of the running at the pre-results day stage, what then???

As another correspondent (Tony Burgess) notes:
Last year we were told that pupils from independent schools achieved less than 30% of the total number of A* grades at A-level, which means that over 70% of all A* grades were achieved in state schools. In other words, well over twice as many A* grades at A-level were achieved in state schools than independents.

Despite this, privately educated pupils, already advantaged by being taught in smaller classes etc, are apparently entitled to almost half the places at Oxbridge. Doesn't research also show, when comparing students with similar A-level grades on entry, that state school students outperform the privately educated at university? There may be many reasons why relatively few students from comprehensives get into Oxbridge, but it is not their lack of ability.

And though I'd like to take the focus on Oxbridge off the table (GOD, it's as if the rest didn't count for anything), proportionality demands that we look at how and why students apply and are accepted at University. If they're being asked to take on the level of debt demanded by higher fees then the least we can do is sort out getting the doors properly open.

It ties up with another long-running bug this household has about 'we select only the best' (and its usually unspoken extension 'and they prove themselves to be so'. This applies for jobs, university places and more.


Your selections are those that you believe WILL BE the best, based on whatever evidence you wish to prioritise at the offer/selection stages.

Since you (quite obviously) didn't select any of those you DIDN'T choose, you have no way of evaluating whether they would have proven themselves to be as good, worse or better than those you DID choose.

I'm not saying that the system could intentionally choose seemingly incapable candidates to test out the fairness of offer/selection policies - that would clearly be unfair to those candidates flailing to survive, but clearly there needs to be some way of looking again at thinking 'exam results' etc necessarily result in "the best" being chosen.

1 comment:

JoeinVegas said...

Here in the US there seem to be quite a number of students with elevated grades. Universities are requesting other items - such as extracurricular studies, volunteer activities, things done outside of school - as additional indicators that prospective students might evolve.