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    Unconditional offers, GCSE gaps and climate change protests

    4 September 2019

    Unconditional Offers

    In the last issue of  Spectator Schools, Ross Clark wrote about the dangers of ‘unconditional offers’, whereby a university offers a student a place irrespective of their exam results. The topic has come back into the news following this year’s A-level results, with headmasters bemoaning the apathy among students that unconditional offers can create.

    A number of heads blamed unconditional offers for the drop in top A-level results, with Universities Minister Jo Johnson writing that unconditional offers risk ‘undermining the faith which rests in our education system’. Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, confirmed that it was concerned over the rise in such offers. ‘We know that students who are given and accept unconditional offers may drop a couple of grades in their A-levels because they do take their foot off the pedal,’ she said.

    GCSE and A-level results

    This year’s GCSE results have seen top marks increase yet again, with more than 20.8 per cent of entries graded A (7) or above. The reformed exams were introduced in 2017; since then the numbers of both top and pass marks have been growing. And after years of girls beating boys in exams, boys are closing the gap. The gender divide between pass rates has narrowed, while the gap between girls and boys for top marks (A and above) remains at 6.5 per cent, the same as last year.

    The subjects students are choosing has shifted as well. Foreign languages have experienced a revival at GCSE, with entries up by 3 per cent. Spanish has seen the greatest take-up, with the number of pupils entered for GCSE topping 100,000 for the first time. German, on the other hand, saw a 3.9 per cent fall in entries.

    The school attainment gap is pronounced in A-Levels: 55 per cent of the exams were sat by girls, meaning nearly 80,000 fewer male A-level entries than female. Early university placement data for 18-year-olds showed 27,410 fewer men than women offered places. For parents of boys, it’s a ongoing concern.

    Climate change protests

    After Scottish students staged a number of climate change strikes in Edinburgh (top), the city’s council has made the decision to allow its students to take one day off from school a year in order to protest. When pupils took part in the strikes in March, a number of councils announced that students would not be punished, as long as they had their parents’ permission. The City of Edinburgh council has clamped down on the Greta Thunberg-inspired protests, stating that although they supported young people raising awareness of climate change, ‘there needs to be a balance struck’.