A Cambridge offer-holder claimed that the incoming cohort is 'the most prepared for university for generations' Lucas Maddalena

A record number of 395,770 students, representing 91% of all students with a confirmed place, have secured a place on their first choice course in the UK as 44.3% of all students have achieved an A* and A grade, up from 38.1% last year. In comparison, 365,000 students (88% of all students with a confirmed place) secured their first choice last year.

Overall, 435,430 students have secured a university place, representing a 5% increase on last year. A new high of 20.7% of all 18 year olds from the UK’s most disadvantaged backgrounds have been made offers, although progress still lags in closing the gap to students from the most advantaged areas, with 48.4% made offers.

The proportion of students achieving A*-C grades has seen a slight increase from 87.5% in 2020 to 88.2% this year in England and Wales, compared to 89.0% and 85.5% respectively in Scotland. Meanwhile, the proportion achieving A* grades has swelled from 14.3% last year to 19.1% this time around, and nearly 13,000 achieving 3 A* grades this year, compared to approximately 7,700 last year.

Top universities were expected to stick rigidly to offer grades this year after oversubscription on courses last year, with substantial grade inflation forecast as DataHE predicted that the average applicant, who went from BBB-BBC in 2019 to close to ABB last year, would rise close to AAB this year.

Teacher-assessed marks have risen by approximately a grade this year, therefore driving competition for places and potentially leaving less leniency for those who narrowly miss out on the required marks for their respective courses. The Guardian yesterday (09/08) predicted that just under 150,000 students have either fallen short of a university offer or missed out on their required grades.

Amidst potential oversubscription of University and Higher Education courses and what has been called a “scramble for higher education places,” Shadow schools minister Peter Kyle has cautioned that disadvantaged A-level students may “fall through the cracks”.

Meanwhile, Lord Wharton of Yarm, Chair of the Office for Students, wrote in the Telegraph that students who have obtained their required grades “should be certain there is a place waiting for them.”

He also called for students being offered deferred places in the event of oversubscription to be “presented with a genuine choice” and not “unfairly pressured.” In February, Cambridge confirmed that deferral or alternative Colleges may be offered to offer-holders in the “unlikely” event of oversubscription.

Following the cancellation of this year’s A-level examinations in January amidst school closures during the national lockdown, students receiving results today (10/08) have been awarded Teacher-Assessed Grades, meanwhile other students who have opted to take exams in the autumn will receive their results on 16th December 2021. Predicted grades have been based on coursework, mock exams and essays. Head teachers have signed off on all grades and confirmed that there is evidence to corroborate them.

The use of teacher estimates follows the fiasco which ensued last year when an algorithm last year modulated students’ grades based on their school’s grade distribution between 2017-2019, as well as their past examination performance, and rankings and predicted grades from teachers. This initially saw exams regulator Ofqual downgrade approximately 39.1% of all A-level results. Meanwhile, 1 in 5 schools had A-level grades reviewed by exam boards this year, and less than 1% of schools were required to adjust students’ grades, TES reported this morning.

A ‘triple lock’ system announced on the eve of results day last year meant that a student’s final result would be taken from either their highest grade on results day, their mock exam results or an optional exam taken in the autumn. This led to controversy as critics highlighted the possibility of the uneven approach to mock exams across the country paving the way for unfair disparities.

Judged by the House of Commons education committee beforehand to carry the risk of penalising “BAME pupils, pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, children looked after, and free school meal-eligible pupils”, the controversial algorithm led to a disadvantage between school types, with the proportion of A*s and As achieved by independent school students rising by 4.7 percentage points while there was only a 0.3 rise for state sixth form colleges. Regional differences also emerged as 8.3% of students in the least deprived areas had their results lowered, whereas this percentage was at 10.4% for pupils from the most deprived.

A subsequent U-turn by the government four days after the initial backlash then saw teacher estimates used to calculate A-level and GCSE grades, rather than the algorithm, with the University of Cambridge committing to accepting all students offered a place who met the conditions of their offer. Following success for the #HonourTheOffer social media campaign, the University eventually made 4,500 offers for 3,450 places.

So far today (10/08), Lucy Cavendish has released a statement congratulating its successful offer holders, claiming that it will become the first Cambridge College to admit “a majority of exceptional new undergraduate students from underrepresented backgrounds.”


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Luke Patterson, a Northern Irish A-Level student who has achieved his offer to read Human, Social and Political Sciences at Cambridge, told Varsity that although “on the one hand you had a pretty good idea of your grades, mapping from your mock exams and other assessments”, results day this year was still coloured by “an inherent fear”.

Luke, who achieved three A* grades and one A, said, “I only had three months of face to face teaching due to lockdowns and Covid outbreaks so I certainly feel very little connection with my school due to self teaching.”

However, he also added that due to extended self-study, he believes that “this cohort [is] the most prepared for university for generations”.

Amelia McDowell, also from Northern Ireland, said that “after a year of struggling with my mental health thanks to lockdown and the monotony of distance learning that felt like a chore to log into”, nothing about results day felt certain.

Amelia achieved her Cambridge offer to read Modern and Medieval Languages, and said that the stress of “keep[ing] our work at the highest standard consistently because we had no clue what would be used for evidence” for grades was “worthwhile” when she saw her results of three A*s and one A.

“I can’t wait to finally meet the people at my college and on my course,” she told Varsity.

Meanwhile Angela Kanu, who achieved her Chemical Engineering offer for Cambridge, stated that despite digital schooling proving “a challenge at times”, she “still managed to stay alert in the Google Meets, and stay on top of assignments”.

Varsity has contacted the University to ascertain further admissions details specific to Cambridge.