Nearly one in four universities and colleges failed to meet their own targets to recruit more disadvantaged students last year, reported the Office for Fair Access
(OFFA) this week. The examination board, AQA
, thinks it might have the answer.
AQA published a discussion paper suggesting A level results of pupils in disadvantaged schools (measured by, for example, deprivation indices or free school meals data) could be judged in context by applying “adjusted criteria”. Adjusted criteria are already used by some higher education establishments (eg St George’s Hospital Medical School) but the AQA paper proposes a national scheme and gives examples. All A level pupils from
whatever type of school would be banded according to similar A level grades and adjustment would be applied within these bands. There is no suggestion that a pupil from a poorly-performing school (in terms of exam results) who gained an E would leapfrog over a pupil from an independent school who gained an A.
The AQA paper has been misrepresented in the media to an almost hysterical degree. The Independent’s headline
suggested that the idea had been adopted: “Exam board to penalise private school pupils”. The paper even went so far as to say that private school parents could sue
. Articles in the Telegraph
implied that the scheme was “discrimination” against private school pupils and there were suggestions that the proposed adjustment would “reward” bad schools and "poor" pupils. The AQA paper does not do this – it made it clear it was discussing disadvantaged schools.
has found that all pupils, whether advantaged and disadvantaged, do less well in schools with a majority of disadvantaged pupils. This was confirmed by recent research from the Education Endowment Fund
. Yet the government, sections of the media and some advantaged schools refuse to recognise this.
AQA has made it clear that its paper is for discussion, but sensible debate about the proposal has been drowned by shouts of “discrimination” and “social engineering”. The AQA scheme is interesting and deserves a measured response.