Students face being forced to take a gap year after Oxford, Cambridge and other universities said they may not have room for them – even if they successfully challenge their A-level grades.
Almost four in ten results were downgraded by exam watchdog Ofqual from the marks submitted by teachers.
This meant thousands of upset students could have missed out on their university offers, with many planning to appeal.
But the entire appeals system is mired in confusion, with little clarity on what form it will take and how long it will last.
Schools, through which appeals have to be made, face a race against time to ensure their pupils can be regraded before the September 7 deadline set by Ucas to meet university offer conditions.
Lucy Lipfriend (right) missed out on a place at Cambridge University after her grades were downgraded, which she thinks could be due to her poor performance in A-level exams last year – which she took when her mother Tina (left) had been diagnosed with breast cancer – being taken into account
But even if students successfully challenge their results, leading universities said yesterday they may have to defer places until next year as they are almost full due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Oxford said it would not be possible to meet ‘ongoing social distancing restrictions’ if it went above its maximum intake.
A Cambridge University spokesman said: ‘Regrettably there are physical limits to the numbers of students we can accommodate.’
The university said it will honour every offer where grades are met, but may need to ask students with revised results to defer entry to autumn 2021.
University College London has also warned that any revised grades that come in after September 18 will mean a year’s deferral.
Although this is 11 days after the Ucas deadline, it is still not clear whether exam boards will be able to deal with the expected flood of appeals before either date.
The Department for Education is set to tell schools it will cover any costs associated with exam appeals. They are normally charged if appeals are rejected.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb will also lead an appeals taskforce, working with Ofqual and exam boards. But Education Secretary Gavin Williamson remains opposed to a Scottish-style U-turn where students are given original grades based on teachers’ assessments, sources insisted.
Universities Minister Michelle Donelan has told establishments to hold places for applicants challenging A-level grades until they receive their appeal outcome.
Lilly Keeley Watts was left ‘absolutely gutted’ after losing her place at Durham University, where she planned to study Natural Sciences
But schools, colleges and universities are still unclear how the new appeals process will work and what the likely timescale will be, despite there being little over three weeks until the deadline.
There is a further layer of uncertainty because the Government announced only on Tuesday that A-level and GCSE students will be able to use results in valid mock exams for challenges.
Ofqual has said it is ‘working urgently’ to set out how mocks will form the basis of an appeal, but further details will not be ready until next week.
On the suggestion that some students could be asked to defer places, Labour MP Justin Madders tweeted: ‘Haven’t these kids gone through enough already?’
On results day on Thursday, Ofqual revealed that 39.1 per cent of teachers’ estimates for pupils in England were adjusted down by one grade or more.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘We would encourage universities to show some flexibility.’ Saying these were ‘unique circumstances’ for students, he insisted: ‘They deserve a spirit of generosity.’
Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, of the National Union of Students, said: ‘The Government’s failure to ensure an adequate and timely appeals process was in place before A-level results day was wholly avoidable, and they must now act to address this crisis.’
Sosan Mirafgan dreams of studying medicine and wants to become a brain surgeon but lost her place at Newcastle University following the grading fiasco
Figures show fewer students than last year have so far found places through clearing.
More than 13,000 applicants have been accepted on to degree courses through the annual process that began on Thursday morning – down 24 per cent on the same point last year.
However, one Oxford college announced it would be accepting all students who had received offers, regardless of their grades.
Worcester College said: ‘We made offers in 2020 to our most diverse cohort ever, and in response to the uncertainties… we have confirmed the places of all our UK offer-holders, irrespective of their A-level results.’
Thousands of schools to defy union ‘scaremongering’ and welcome children back full-time from next month
By Glen Keogh for the Daily Mail
Thousands of schools are poised to ignore trade union ‘scaremongering’ and welcome children back full-time from next month, a Daily Mail audit has found.
Town halls across England have worked with schools to draw up detailed plans on how to keep pupils and staff safe and have overwhelmingly pledged a return to a form of normality by the end of September.
The confidence is in stark contrast to the pessimistic tones of education unions but echoes government pledges to get pupils back in the classroom as quickly as possible.
However, concerns have been raised about a lack of clarity on what schools should do in the event of further local, or national, lockdowns, with some pledging to remain open and others warning of immediate closures.
The Daily Mail contacted more than 50 local councils with responsibility for state schools in their area. Of the 19 that responded in detail – representing almost 3,000 schools – all but one pledged to have children back in full-time education by the end of next month. Councils said risk assessments have been undertaken and safety measures will include teaching in class and year-group bubbles, staggered lunch breaks and one-way systems in school buildings.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson in May accused the Unions of ‘scaremongering’ and insisted a return to schools would be safe
For example, in the Cheshire East area around 170 schools will welcome pupils back next month. And in Leicester, which has already been subject to a local lockdown, a council spokesman said ‘almost all’ schools intend to have all pupils in class by September 4.
Unions have insisted that more research needs to be done before pupils head back to the classroom. But in May, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson accused them of ‘scaremongering’ and insisted a return would be safe.
This week, he said a return carried few risks, citing an unpublished Public Health England study, only for reports to emerge that there may be a difference in virus transmission between primary and secondary school children.
But official PHE guidance continues to advise that there is little evidence of schools driving coronavirus infections in local communities.
The National Education Union has drawn up a list of 200 safety demands before schools return – and urged teachers to ‘escalate’ matters if concerns are not addressed. But critics described the demands as ‘nit-picking’.
Commenting on the Mail’s findings, Tory MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons education committee, said: ‘If you were to solely listen to the unions you would think the return to school full-time was impossible, but this audit has shown the attitude from schools and teachers is that if it’s not impossible there must be a way to do it.’
Only THREE PER CENT of staff at Department of Education headquarters were in work on results day
By Jim Norton and Jake Hurfurt for the Daily Mail
As chaos reigned on A-level results day, one might have assumed the Department for Education headquarters would have been a hive of activity.
Yet only 3 per cent of staff in London turned up to the seven-floor office in Whitehall on Thursday, the Daily Mail can reveal.
The beleaguered Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was among just 62 people seen entering the 2,000 capacity building. The dismal attendance on one of the department’s busiest days appears to be further proof that civil servants are continuing to ignore calls to return to their desks.
Mr Williamson has faced mounting criticism throughout the pandemic having struggled to assert authority over teaching unions in getting children back to school.
His reputation took a further beating this week after an 11th-hour change to the way A-levels were graded saw him issue a humiliating apology.
And now the Mail – which has monitored the number of staff entering the Department’s building between 7am and 11am over the past few weeks – can reveal just a fraction have returned to their desks.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been urging workers across the country to return to their offices but only 62 Department for Education staff (three per cent) turned up on A-Level results day
The 62 staff recorded arriving on Thursday is in fact a marked improvement on the previous week, when just two dozen turned up. A source said the building was so empty at one point that the lifts were said to be stopping only on the ministerial floor.
For weeks, Boris Johnson has been urging workers across the country to return to their offices – including the Government’s own 430,000-strong workforce. There are fears city centre shops and eateries – which rely on footfall from office workers – face ruin if more employees do not return.
And yet, despite calls to lead by example, the Cabinet Office has admitted just one in five civil servants has so far done so.
Attendance records across other Whitehall departments also remain low.
Just 57 people were observed entering the headquarters of the Department of Work and Pensions at the six-floor Caxton House in London on Wednesday.
Though this is higher than the 33 recorded last week, it still equates to just 3 per cent of the 1,700 staff member.
A Government spokesman said: ‘We are consulting closely with employees on ending the default that civil servants should work from home and have ensured workplaces are Covid-secure so civil servants can return safely.’