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Posted 11.08.20

Professor Andrew Brewerton speaks out about national A-Level controversies

By Phillip Buchan
Professor Andrew Brewerton, Principal at Plymouth College of Art
Widespread controversy within the UK continues to grow on the eve of the publication of A-level grades in England and Wales, following an announcement by the Scottish government of an urgent review after the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) downgraded 124,000 recommended awards, downgrading awards recommended by teachers for pupils from the poorest areas by more than 15 points, while recommendations for the best-off pupils were downgraded by just under 10 points.

Nearly 40% of A-Level results predictions are expected to be downgraded in England according to a Guardian report, based on the algorithm and data used by the exam regulator Ofqual to distribute grades after the cancellation of exams amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Professor Andrew Brewerton, Principal & Chief Executive at Plymouth College of Art, said: “We’re concerned about reports that teacher assessments will only be taken into account for A-Level students on small courses. If teacher assessments are disregarded completely for courses with more than 15 pupils this risks disproportionate disadvantage for young people from some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Plymouth and the rest of England.

“We support young people to achieve their full potential by being both inspired and prepared to enter Higher Education, and then graduate successfully into a professional career, regardless of their background. After a year of unprecedented difficulty for young people we are concerned that pupils’ exam results may be impacted by data and algorithms with negative consequences for attainment and social mobility.

“When judging how likely a student is to succeed at Plymouth College of Art, we base decisions on portfolio review, motivation and potential to succeed, not just upon exam results.”

Carolyn Deeming, Head of Student Recruitment and Admissions, said: “Following official guidance from Ofqual, we are looking closely at contextual data for each individual application this year in conjunction with A-levels, BTECs and other results achieved, to make sure that we offer a fair and equitable admission system.

“If your results are lower than you were expecting, or if there is a significant difference between the grades predicted by your teacher and the grades that you achieved this week, and you’re worried that you haven’t met the conditions of your university offer, then contact the Admissions department or Clearing lines to discuss your options with them.”

“When judging how likely a student is to succeed, we base decisions on portfolio review, motivation and potential to succeed, not just upon exam results.”

 – Professor Andrew Brewerton, Principal of Plymouth College of Art

Alongside Plymouth College of Art’s main Tavistock Place campus for undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications, the college also has a dedicated Pre-Degree campus, Palace Court, for creative A-level-equivalent creative qualifications. Teachers there are closely monitoring national developments to ensure that students applying for places this year are not disadvantaged by their GCSE results, which will be released next week.

Steven Forsyth, (Interim) Pre-Degree Manager at Plymouth College of Art, said: “After such a turbulent year, it is really disappointing to learn from early national news reports that appear to suggest that many GCSE and A-Level grades awarded may be lower than teachers’ predicted grades. We want to assure and guarantee our Pre Degree applicants that if we believe you have the ability to succeed in a creative Extended Diploma or on our International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme, we’ll endeavour to offer the flexibility that allows you to continue your creative journey. Even if your GCSE grades are lower than predicted in subjects such as English and Maths, you can continue to study in a creative arts environment whilst re-taking your English and Maths qualifications.

“Within the Pre-Degree department we continue to exceed national standards within our UAL creative subjects, and were the first Further Education institution in the South West to achieve 100% Gatsby Career Benchmarks, recognised by OFSTED as the hallmark of good careers information, advice and guidance within education.”