August News Digest: grades fall, F2F interviews return, new school year disrupted

Sep 7, 2023 | Home Featured, News, Sector & policy

A-level and GCSE results lower, face-to-face interviews return for graduates, arguments over tuition fees continue, disruptions to the new school year and more: ISE’s Joint CEO Stephen Isherwood shares what’s caught his eye in the news this month.

A-level and GCSE top grades fall

August is the month when photos of students opening A-level and GCSE exam results dominate the headlines. This year, the main story was that grade boundaries returned towards pre-pandemic levels – this meant fewer top grades.

The BBC reported that top A-level grades fell but were still above pre-pandemic levels, whilst GCSE grades fell into line with pre-pandemic levels. The fall was steepest in England with Wales and Northern Ireland still seeing grade inflation. Scottish Higher results dropped but were also still above pre-pandemic levels, reported the Guardian.

Employers made little comment on the results, but the Association of School and College Leavers said the government needs to talk to employers about changes to exam grading policy.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan said she never asked anyone their A-level results when she was in business, reported the Independent. And writing in the Sunday Times, she said that qualification grades need to return to pre-pandemic levels so they hold their value.

School buildings in danger of collapse

The government announced that over 100 schools had to fully or partially close due to faulty concrete in the week before the autumn term started reported the BBC. The closures were forced as the government changed its approach to managing Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC).

Highlighting the funding challenges many schools face, the FT covered a year in the life of an Oldham school. The story highlighted the head’s efforts to feed hungry kids, fix leaky roofs and help year 11s afford prom.

Students get their first or reserve choice of university but worry about living costs

91% of students have secured their first or insurance university choice, reported FE News, whilst the Guardian reported that students applying to research intensive courses such as medicine could find competition tough this year.

However, once the bulk of clearing was processed David Kernohan’s analysis showed that the proportion of English 18-year-olds placed at a higher Tariff provider was slightly up on last year.

When students finally get onto campus this autumn, their timetable might look a little different to previous years. Some universities are compressing the student timetable so students can find paid work to help with the cost of living, reported the Guardian.

One in two students have reconsidered whether they can afford to go to university this year, according to an Open University study reported in iNews.

Students may also face an accommodation crisis in many cities this autumn, says student housing charity, reported in The Independent. And one in three students may choose to live at home when they go to university this year according to a new survey released by UCL, reported the Guardian.

Should tuition fees increase?

Tuition fees need to rise to stop the decline of the UK’s university sector, said the director of the Social Market Foundation, reported the Evening Standard. The £9,250 fee in England is now only worth £6,600 to universities compared to when the cap was introduced.

In reply to the call for increased fees, Education minister Robert Halfon said there is “no-way” he would raise tuition fees during a cost-of-living crisis, reported The Times. The Times also commented that the government’s ‘rip-off degrees’ language is not helpful to society or universities.

Labour leader Kier Starmer joined in the debate on fees, with the claim that he wouldn’t be able to go to university today because of the cost, but ruled out abolishing tuition fees, reported the Independent.

Face-to-face interviews return

KPMG and Deloitte will return to face-to-face interviews for graduates applying to trainee roles, reported the Sunday Times, as they seek to improve candidate engagement. Employers also now focus more on skills than education levels, reported the FT.

Competition for top graduate talent remains high and it’s the engineering firms who lose out to the tech sector, reported The Guardian. The demand for graduate level skills is likely to continue – 11 million more graduates are needed in the UK by 2035, says a new report published by Universities UK.

When they start work, young people’s biggest concerns on starting a new job are not fitting in with the team and not knowing what they’re doing, said a new study by the Prince’s Trust reported in the Independent.

Catch up with more industry news in the July News Digest

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