Second Oxford college accepts all students offered places after exam fiasco

Following shortly after a similar decision by Oxford University’s Worcester College, a second Oxford college has announced that it will accept all students who were offered places irrespective of their A-level results this year.

Wadham College announced over the weekend that it would not let the A-level gradings debacle of 2020 obstruct its mission to provide places for the “brightest and best from all communities”.

The prestigious college’s Warden, Ken Macdonald QC, said that Wadham had been giving scrupulous consideration to the predicament of this year’s applicants who had not been awarded grades matching their offer conditions under the unprecedented exam system of 2020.

The considerations had included discussions with departmental admissions coordinators across Oxford University, he continued.

Wadham, he said, had for years been pursuing a mission to open its doors to the brightest and most able from all communities.

This had included a policy of ‘clemency’ to a number of applicants who had marginally missed their offer grades, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds or underperforming schools.

The college, he went on, recognised that students from these backgrounds who had excelled sufficiently “to make competitive and convincing applications to Oxford” were exceptional young people who surprised no academics upon their arrival at Wadham when they matched the performance quality of the others in their cohort.

Such students, he said, deserved places “and we are fortunate to have them”.

However, while pursuing the same policy this year, Macdonald said, it had become apparent to the college that 2020’s formal grading system was not contributing positively to existing knowledge about its applicants’ capabilities.

This absence of additional useful knowledge had left the college being unable to safely deny places to previously selected students.

As a result, the college had decided that the proper way forward is to rely on the assessments made by tutors when they originally offered those places.

Macdonald concluded: “These assessments involved detailed scrutiny of academic records and university-organised subject aptitude tests, and face-to-face interviews. Importantly, they also included a careful consideration of the nature and quality of each applicant’s schooling along with other contextual information.

“In these circumstances, and with full confidence in their ability, Wadham College will admit all 2020 offer-holders. Those applicants whose courses are now full will be guaranteed deferred entry for 2021.”

The college is also committing to guaranteed deferred entry next year for applicants whose courses are now full.

Wadham and Worcester were responding to the predicament of 2020’s A-level students who were, for the first time in history, prevented from attending their schools and colleges from March this year and denied the opportunity to sit exams.

The closures and exam cancellations were deemed necessary by the UK government to limit the spread of COVID-19.

However, they resulted in a most unusual and controversial means of awarding students grades for their A-level and GCSE studies.

Teacher and school assessments were submitted to the exam regulator Ofqual instead of marked exam papers.

These assessments were then ‘moderated’ by a statistical computer algorithm in an attempt to prevent atypical results from previous years’ exams.

However, they resulted in England in 36% of entries being awarded a lower grade than their teacher-assessed academic performance had predicted, as the algorithm balanced individual results against the generic performance of the school.

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