Worcester College has announced they will be accepting all offer-holders, regardless of their A-Level grades.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government decided to cancel exams and instead award grades using an algorithm based on a range of measures including teacher’s predicted grades and pupil rankings. This algorithm has disproportionately disadvantaged academies, comprehensives and colleges which has led to students from state schools not being accepted into Oxford, despite receiving offers in January.

A* and A grades increased by 4.7% in independent schools, but academies, comprehensives and colleges only increased by 1.7, 2 and 0.3 respectively.

Overall, 27.9% of grades were A* and A. These are the highest ever levels of A* and A results, giving the students from independent schools an increased advantage over state school students.

Oxford SU’s Class Act campaign has released a statement calling for all colleges to follow Worcester’s example and to accept all offer-holders, they have criticised, “the shambolic decision by the UK government to judge A-Level grades on the basis of previous school attainment and postcode, weighted in favour of the predicted grades awarded by teachers and schools’ internal mock exam results.

As a result, 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.”

The campaign continues, “This decision by the government has disproportionately inflated the grades of private school students at the expense of state school students and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Thus, the decisions made by Oxford colleges to reject students who have missed their grades will have a disproportionate effect on these students.”

Michelle Meadows, Ofqual’s deputy chief regulator, has said that students from a lower socioeconomic background would be subject to a greater downwards adjustment:

“There was a tendency for some more generosity to be there in the predictions for students from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds.

“So you see a very small effect where there is some more – I don’t want to use the term downgrading, I think that’s the wrong term here – but there is a small effect of a greater difference between the end calculated grades and the centre assessment grades.”

Hertford College has also decided to accept the majority of their offer-holders and a large percentage of their cohort will be from state schools this year. They published a tweet in response to the growing outrage over A Level results:

“Many of you have contacted us about A Levels – 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.”

In 2019, 62.3% of Oxford’s student body were from state schools. Hertford have exceeded this percentage considerably and are continuing to work towards diversity in student population.

Principle of Lady Margaret Hall, Alan Rusbridger has also released a statement clarifying the college’s approach to this year’s admissions stating that “This year we have confirmed places at LMH for 97 per cent of all 2020 offer holders. This includes 93 per cent of the candidates who have been told they missed the grades they needed to satisfy the conditional offers made in January.”

The statement goes on to add that they “have confirmed places to all those (100 per cent) who are in the most socially disadvantaged band, using the metrics agreed by Oxford.”

Jesus College have also released a statement describing their efforts to combat the effects of the discriminatory algorithm:

“The Academic Office was well prepared for what is now happening in the wider sector. Prior to A-level results day, we carefully scrutinised our offer holders’ grades and identified those who might be unfairly disadvantaged this year based on the detailed information we held about their backgrounds. On results day we accepted every student who met their offer grades, as well as seventy per cent of those for whom there were mitigating circumstances (including information on disadvantage) that meant they missed their grades. We accepted all Opportunity Oxford offer-holders.”

Students and alumni are signing various petitions in an attempt to pressure colleges into accepting students who have been affected by the lack of examinations this year.

As the Jesus College Access Officer has said: “Time and time again, access efforts are undercut by the vast educational inequalities that set students back well before the application process even begins. We need to speak up for them.”

In a statement released on Saturday, Magdalen College announced that it would not be following Worcester’s lead, citing “constraints on teaching capacity in both colleges and departments, together with challenges in providing accommodation with appropriate facilities to meet the requirements of health and safety, particularly during the current pandemic.”

The statement continued, “Magdalen has been able to grant places to the majority of offer-holders who did not satisfy the conditions of their offer. We are watching the evolving situation closely, and we will be following the University’s policy in considering any appeals that we receive.”

This article was updated at 11am on 16/08/20 with the addition of Magdalen College’s statement

Phoebe Jowett Smith

Phoebe is a student at Jesus College, she studies Spanish and Arabic and is about to start her third year, after spending her second year living in the Middle East.

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