So we now know that the thing invented to bully the exam boards because the Mail said so bullied the exam boards because the Mail said so, and no doubt something about Michael Gove will be along soon enough. How did people notice there was something up in the first place?
Well, the long-term rise in average grades (I’m specifically not taking a view on whether it is “grade inflation” or “grade growth”) suddenly went into reverse, a lot of students unexpectedly did much worse than predicted, and the difference was concentrated at a specific grade boundary.
Privately, many VCs report that applicants seem to have underperformed on their predicted grades more than in previous years. And, crucially, selective universities say that the number of students with AAB upwards was noticeably lower. This has come as a real shock.
A Westminster source says the data the government was working with was seriously misjudged. “Hefce were asked by the department to predict how many AABs there would be in the system. They looked historically and predicted a 5,000 increase. The reality was more like a 5,000 decrease, which then becomes an effective deficit of 10,000 anticipated AAB students.”
One reason for this is that for the first time in two decades the number of students gaining the top grades at A-level did not rise this August. In total, 26.6% were awarded A or A*, a fall of 0.4 points compared with last year.
AAB is an important grade boundary, because the government decided to let the universities take as many students as they liked above that level this year. So, we have:
a sudden drop in grades, concentrated at an important policy boundary, reversing the long-term trend, with major downstream consequences, and a high rate of missed predicted grades. That is, the same signal that marked political intervention in the case of the GCSEs.
Other explanations are offered:
“There is a general mystification among admissions professionals about where all these AABs have gone. They seem to have evaporated into thin air.”
One theory doing the rounds is that predicted grades for many students were wrong. Experts say this could have been because marking has changed, or because teachers nudged up predictions for borderline cases, knowing that many universities were desperate for extra AAB students for policy reasons this year.
But I’m not sure we need any other explanation than that a policy decision was taken to lop a bit off, as with the GCSEs. There are signs that people involved sort-of-know this, but for some reason no-one’s saying it.