Monday, 6 August 2018

Unconditional offers 1,2,3 &4

Kenan Malik rightly sees the huge rise in unconditional offers by universities "just wanting to put bums on seats" as the inevitable result of government policy introducing "market forces into education", but doesn`t mention the often dire effects this has on schools (The penny finally drops - universities are businesses, 29.07.18). Under pressure from an inspection service ever watchful for downward trends in results, senior management apply similar pressure on teaching staff, usually by attaching A-level target grades on 6th form pupils, based on their GCSE results. When the pupils in receipt of these guaranteed university places not unsurprisingly relax efforts and fail to achieve target grades, who gets the blame?
     Is it any wonder teacher training places remain unfilled, and that there is a shortfall of around 30,000 classroom teachers this year? As Malik says, if you want to improve education, "you don`t turn universities into supermarkets", but you don`t treat teachers as second class citizens either!

Is it any wonder there has been "a fall in overall satisfaction" with our state-funded universities (Morning Star, 28/07/18)? Value for money is hard to see when the third term of the year is practically non-existent, the numbers of lectures and tutorials ever on the decline, and the greed of vice-chancellors rivalling that of a FTSE 100 chief executive. With students` mental health issues on the increase, the underfunding of welfare support is a downright disgrace.
    Ally all of this with the failures of Oxbridge`s admissions procedures, and the inevitable under-representation of black and northern students, not to mention the ridiculous favouritism shown to public school pupils, with them even being allowed to use Pre-U grades as entry qualifications instead of A-levels, and the result is a higher education system seriously in need of reform.
     With universities eager to get "bums on seats", as the universities minister, Sam Gyimah, so eloquently put it, and grab as many of those £9Ks as possible, they are now increasing massively the number of unconditional offers they are making to applicants, clearly without any consideration of the consequences.
  Imagine the pressure on over-stressed and over-stretched teachers when a quarter of their A-level class switch off because of their guaranteed university places. Will Ofsted judge their schools sympathetically when results drop? Of course not!

Readers rightly expressed anger at the huge rise in unconditional offers being made to students before they take their exams, but surprisingly there was nothing referring to the effects, often devastating, on results (Letters, 31/07/18). The original article did mention some students with guaranteed places "underperforming against their expected entry grades" (Sharp rise in unconditional offers prompts calls for reform at universities, 26/07/18), but not the knock-on effects. With teachers under more and more pressure from senior management to improve results, and Ofsted keen to make judgements on schools based mainly on data and results, the existence in 6th form classes of pupils refusing to push themselves to achieve their potential increases teacher stress levels hugely.
     Until unconditional offers are banned, school data will inevitably reveal numbers of pupils who fail to live up to the expectations arising from brilliant GCSE results on the increase. Is it any wonder "20% of teacher training vacancies at secondary level are unfilled" (Too much pressure, 31/07/18)?

The large increase in number of students receiving unconditional offers, "from 2,500 five years ago to 58,000 this year", has rightly led  the University and College Union (UCU) to call for a "complete overhaul of university admissions (Sharp rise unconditional offers prompts calls for reform at universities, 26/07/18). Your editorial last year mentioned the "hidden profit motive" which encourages universities to "recruit as many students as possible paying top whack" (The market in higher education,08/12/17), which prompted my letter warning of the despair unconditional offers inevitably cause teachers keen to maximise their pupils` potential.
    If ever the "overhaul" takes place, it is to be hoped that the question of university entry qualifications is also included; it cannot be fair for public schools to use different exams from A-levels when the provider of Pre-U examinations is not affiliated to the Joint Council for Qualifications like all other awarding bodies.

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