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Open letters and petitions call for Oxford to accept all offer-holders

The University of Oxford is facing pressure to admit offer-holders who missed their grades, amidst controversy over A-level results.

Almost 40% of teacher assessments were downgraded due to a standardisation process based on schools’ previous exam performances. Analysis has shown that students from disadvantaged were hit hardest by the downgrades.

An open letter to Oxford University Admissions is calling for all 2020 offers to be made unconditional.

It says: “As graduates of Oxford, we write to plead with admissions tutors across the university to show kindness and generosity to the many pupils whose predicted A Level results were unexpectedly and unfairly ‘downgraded’ by an algorithm.”

The letter, signed by nearly 3000 Oxford graduates and students by the evening following A-Level results day, continues: “We are particularly concerned by the disproportionate impact this has had on students from poorer backgrounds. Across the country, 40% of pupils saw their grades lowered by a system which takes into account their school and region in determining the mark they ‘should’ have earned (had they sat an exam). This approach simply reproduces and amplifies the inequalities already baked into our system.”

Oxford SU Class Act Campaign backs calls for A-Level grades to be disregarded. A statement said: “Offer holders have found themselves losing their places at Oxford despite having been awarded the grades needed to attend Oxford by their teachers, or having already achieved them in mock examinations. These students have been judged on their socio-economic backgrounds over what they have shown they can achieve to their teachers and their schools.”

“In this extraordinary year, the simplest way forward would be to provide places for all offer holders, as Worcester College has already been able to do. We urge all colleges to consider doing the same.”

Over 2,500 people have also signed a petition calling for Oxford to reverse the decision to “take places away from state school ‘near misses’”.

Worcester College has confirmed that it will accept all offer-holders regardless of A-level results.

The College said: “Many members of our college community and beyond have expressed their concern for the potential impact of yesterday’s A Level results on this year’s incoming students. At Worcester we made offers in 2020 to our most diverse cohort ever, and in response to the uncertainties surrounding this year’s assessment, we have confirmed the places of all our UK offer-holders, irrespective of their A-level results.”

Hertford College has accepted a record number of offer-holders, with 81% of UK students having attended state schools. This is up from their three-year average of 70%.

The College tweeted: “Following detailed work on a case by case basis, we’re pleased to have accepted the majority of those who didn’t meet their offers. Consequently, we’re admitting our largest ever cohort with 81% of UK students from state schools.”

The University announced yesterday that unsuccessful offer-holders who appeal their grades will not start in 2020. They will have to wait a year before beginning their course.

A University spokesperson said: “We intend to take every student who meets their offer grades as well as those where we consider there are mitigating circumstances for them missing their grade. As we do every year when grades are remarked, some students may be offered a deferred place. 

“Once we reach our maximum intake of undergraduates in 2020, we will have to defer entry to 2021 for any additional candidates who appeal successfully and whose place is then confirmed. Our primary concern must be the health and safety of our students, staff and community and it will not otherwise be possible for us to meet ongoing social-distancing restrictions and other challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“The University already has detailed plans for students’ arrival to ensure they have a safe and successful year ahead, regardless of their background, personal circumstances, or how they have been directly affected by the pandemic. In all circumstances, the University’s first priority is the health and welfare of our students and staff. 

Unfortunately, we cannot comment on specific figures until places have been confirmed.”

The University previously committed to using its clemency policy if there was evidence students from disadvantaged backgrounds were unfairly affected by the grading system.

Ofqual, the examination regulator, defended its policy, saying: “Without standardisation there was the potential for students to be unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged, depending on the school or college they attended and the approach they took.”

“A key motivation for the design of the approach to standardisation that we took was to remove this potential inequality and, as far as possible, ensure that a grade represents the same standard, irrespective of the school or college they attended.”

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