Open letter from Nick Tolchard, Chair of Council in respect of last week’s A level result determinations

Versions sent to:

Thangam Debbonaire, MP for Bristol West

Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chairman of the Education Select Committee, House of Commons

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Kt, Minister for Investment, Department for International Trade and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy

Education correspondents of The Times, Financial Times, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Guardian, BBC, Sky News and the Press Association


These are extraordinary times, but the handling of grading for A level students this year is neither robust nor fair for many children.

The use of a standardisation process that reflects the performance of previous year groups, plus the current cohort’s results when two years younger, without even the consideration of teacher’s predictions at all for subject cohorts of greater than 15, does not reflect the performance of individual children or their teachers.

It also penalises children in larger less selective schools, in the state and independent sectors, both of whom have many pupils on supported places.

As a result, the awarding of places at Universities and Higher Education Colleges means that many students are finding their places declined. This is devastating for them individually and their hard working families, but it’s also bad for the country’s future.

The messages being put out by Government, Ofqual and UCAS about the Universities being super flexible and more places being offered do not appear to be manifesting.

Places are being held at some Universities for International students whilst being closed to domestic applicants, when many of the former have not had the same statistical process applied to them. Young, inexperenced applicants have been on telephone hold for several hours since Thursday trying to get through to appeals lines, having had places declined purely on the awarded grades with no consideration of the circumstances. I know there have been helpful University staff dealing with numbers of distraught applicants which have been beyond their capacity to handle. The appeals process is still unclear, meanwhile some Universities approached through clearing, pressurised applicants to make a decision within 24 hours. This therefore means students having the Sophie’s Choice of risking missing a University place entirely, through an appeal to their chosen college.

Thousands of children around England remain distraught today. I cannot believe, as a school governor, how this generation are being let down having had such a terrible end to their school careers. It should not have to follow into Higher Education. Sitting autumn exams, having had many months away from school, in many cases without online teaching, will not bring even assurance of a place in 2021 after 12 months where they cannot travel or expect meaningful employment.

I hope the Government hear the voice of the child coming through all this, change their policy and listen to the opinion of those trusted teachers that know the students best. Surely some grade inflation is a better price to pay than destroying dreams. As employers we will not disadvantage previous year groups. We can and must apply safeguarding rigours to pupils mental as well as physical health, and in addition we have a parental and professional duty to secure their academic and career futures.

We need a self-confident young generation who trust their institutions, to build a global, inclusive and successful Britain in the coming challenging years.

Nick Tolchard

Chair of Council, Clifton College