Sir Anthony Seldon has kindly given SATIPS permission to share his article, which appeared in The Times on Wednesday, August 12, here.
This year’s school-leavers, expecting their results tomorrow, have been to hell and back. They didn’t sit their A levels (which, as a former head, I know most enjoy), they’ve missed out on their emotional farewells and leaving celebrations. And now they are being told that their predicted grades are going to be marked down, they won’t get into the university of their choice, they will miss out on freshers week and their first year will be miserable. Not surprisingly, many are anxious and downcast as they await their grades. It’s time for some realism. School-leavers have everything to look forward to.
There has never been a better year to apply, with universities worried about a drop in overseas students. They will be falling over themselves to be fair and flexible. If applicants don’t get their intended grades, by all means apply for a re-mark, but get straight on the telephone to your first choice university and there’s an excellent chance that they will take you.
Universities are particularly anxious this year to ensure that they help less advantaged students. So if you are sitting on an AAA offer and achieved a BBB or less, and if you are from a school in a difficult area, don’t panic. Universities are even holding places, pending re-marking.
The fiasco in Scotland, where SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon apologised to Scottish pupils over their exam results, is unlikely to occur in England because it has a different procedure on grade assessments and appeals. Neither should students be depressed about the quality of education that they will experience at university. Recent talk about “everything being online until next June” is nonsense. Universities have been preparing for months and will offer as much face-to-face teaching and social provision as it is safe to do. Students will be amazed by the high-quality experience they will find.
Applicants should shop around too, knowing that they are in a buyers’ market. Many universities offer variants which might prove attractive, including the alternative of a January start as well as September, and two-year degrees rather than the conventional three, both offered at my university, Buckingham.
Students are in such a tizzy in part because of the dog’s breakfast created by all of us involved in education since March. Scaremongering and demonising each other, as in calling key sections of education “the blob”, has been puerile. Mutual professional respect, and putting the interests of students at the heart of everything we do, will ensure that, even if there is a nationwide second wave of Covid-19, we will pull together much better next year than this.