Too many first-class levels awarded in England, regulator says | Higher training

Universities in England have been for rebuked for awarding “excessive” numbers of first-class levels through the pandemic, with ministers and regulators accusing the sector of undermining its personal popularity.

The Office for Students (OfS) printed evaluation claiming that greater than half of first-class levels awarded in 2021 couldn’t be defined by “observable factors” akin to prior outcomes or social background of scholars.

Susan Lapworth, the OfS’s interim chief government, mentioned: “Unmerited grade inflation is bad for students, graduates and employers, and damages the reputation of English higher education.”

Michelle Donelan, the colleges minister for England, mentioned universities ought to reply in the identical manner as A-level and GCSE exams and restore pre-pandemic award ranges by subsequent 12 months.

“Unjustifiable increases in the proportion of top degrees being awarded threaten to undermine the value of UK degrees,” Donelan mentioned. “We expect the OfS to challenge registered providers with an excessive proportion of top degrees being awarded.”

The OfS mentioned almost 38% of undergraduates in England had been awarded a primary in 2020-21, greater than double the 16% awarded firsts a decade earlier, and above the 29% awarded earlier than the pandemic.

But the OfS’s evaluation additionally checked out “unexplained” firsts, outlined as awards that “cannot be statistically accounted for by changes in the characteristics of the graduating cohort” for every college.

The Royal Academy of Music was accused of awarding the very best proportion of “unexplained” firsts among the many 80% of scholars awarded firsts final 12 months. Among mainstream universities, Bradford had 41% of its firsts classed as unexplained by the OfS’s statisticians, whereas Queen Mary University London (QMUL) had 37% unexplained.

A spokesperson for QMUL mentioned it was ranked by the Sutton Trust as high within the nation for social mobility. “We are proud to open the doors of opportunity to anyone with the potential to succeed at a Russell Group university,” they mentioned. “We are equally proud of our successful world-leading work in reducing the attainment gap between white and BAME students, which has resulted in our degree outcomes becoming a true reflection of our students’ abilities.”

Steve West, the vice-chancellor of UWE Bristol and president of the Universities UK group, mentioned the OfS additionally “rightly” wished college students to not be restricted in what grades they may obtain. “We believe the OfS must be careful not to assume that students with lower entry grades, typically from more disadvantaged backgrounds, cannot achieve first-class degrees,” West mentioned.

Ofqual, England’s examination regulator, has additionally introduced that college students taking A-levels and GCSEs sooner or later will profit from questions which are less complicated and keep away from references that would confuse and drawback candidates.

The regulator has been involved that pupils could also be unfairly hampered by a middle-class bias within the language utilized in questions, akin to a 2017 GCSE maths paper that described a theatre the place “each person had a seat in the circle or had a seat in the stalls”. Candidates had been requested to calculate how lots of the 2,600 seats had been occupied, however pupils would wish to know that circle and stalls are in several sections to reply accurately.

In 2019, examiners for a GCSE German trendy languages paper mentioned some college students struggled when requested to explain the benefits and downsides of a snowboarding vacation.

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Jo Saxton, Ofqual’s chief regulator, mentioned: “This isn’t about making exams and assessments easier but about breaking down the barriers that stop young people achieving their true potential and making sure that exams actually test the things they are designed to test.”

The new laws embody a dedication to clear and constant format, to assist candidates with particular wants or disabilities.

A spokesperson for the Autism Education Trust mentioned: “This is a positive step towards creating a more inclusive education system that recognises that adjustments must be made to support the needs of all autistic children and young people to reach their potential and receive a fair chance to demonstrate their skills and abilities.”

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