Fears A-level grade crackdown could harm pupils’ mental health

Final-year pupils awaiting their A-level results next week will feel they have got an “unfair deal” if they miss out on university places due to a crackdown on grade inflation, according to teachers who have shared their fears about the impact on students’ mental health.

Julie Richardson, the headteacher of Verulam school in St Albans, said her pupils would be “frustrated” if predictions from the University of Buckingham of a 10% fall in A and A* grades materialise next week.

The “Covid generation” of year 13 students have experienced two years of disruption, including the 2020 U-turn over their GCSE results – when the government agreed marks should be awarded by teacher assessments after the use of an algorithm led to almost 40% of predicted grades being downgraded.

“That was remedied but that did cause significant strain on year 11s at the time. That won’t be forgotten, so they will feel incredibly hard done by if [they receive lower grades] next week,” she said.

“My biggest concern when it comes to our students, if results are 10% lower, is the impact that could have on their mental health and wellbeing. They’ve already been through significant stress at GCSE.”

Although there have been no lockdowns this academic year, there has still been disruption due to staff taking time off to recover from Covid and the stress caused by the pandemic.

Richardson said her school – like many others – had significant issues with staffing, including having no religious education teacher for a long period.

While her staff will be on hand to advise students on how to go through clearing if they miss their university place, she said many would be disappointed. “I think it’s very difficult for young people when they’ve got their heart set on going to a particular institution. It’s quite hard to get them to understand that there are other options and that it’s not a completely lost cause.”

Maija, a teacher at a state school in Portsmouth, said she was feeling “very nervous” for her pupils next week. “All the offers my students have received are for really high grades and it’s really difficult to say right now what’s going to happen. My hope right now is that the universities will be flexible in their offers.”

She said four of her students who were not expecting to meet their offer conditions were already planning to take a year out and apply again next year, which is unusual in her school.

She felt some pupils had underperformed relative to their potential because online learning did not reach the same standard as in-person lessons and they had been deprived of exam experience in their GCSEs.

“I know a lot of teachers did their best. I did my best, but the content I delivered isn’t comparable to what you can do face-to-face. Even the best students said they switched on the lesson and then they switched off. It’s very difficult to follow. They had a full timetable and a lot of learning was lost,” she said.

“I think most of them, if you spoke to them, would say they had an unfair deal. On the other hand, they’re all in the same position. Most of them do understand that it’s not their fault, but some life choices were taken away by this.”


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