Daily Telegraph letter
On Saturday 1st February, our Head of KS5 had a letter to the Editor published in the Daily Telegraph. In it, she set out her thoughts on recent news from UCAS that unconditional offers to university will reduce by up to 75 per cent by 2021.
The edited copy can be read here, and Mrs Elliott’s full letter can be found below.
‘Unconditional’ university offers breed apathy and bode ill for future prospects – not to mention mental health
By Alice Elliott, Head of Key Stage 5 at Sexey’s School
I could not be more delighted to read today’s news from UCAS, that unconditional offers which come with strings attached will reduce by up to 75 per cent within a year.
As Camilla Turner reports, a record one in four school leavers were given a “conditional unconditional” offer last year, in which students are guaranteed a place if they make an institution their first choice.
The perils of this ever-increasing trend have been well advertised: students select the wrong course or even university for their skill set, A Levels lose their rigour (and arguably, their raison d’etre), not to mention students resting on their laurels in the run up to exams may score less highly than they would have done. As the inestimable educationalist Laura McInerney once put it, “Even a fairly studious 18 year old will put partying before Proust.”
Cited less often is the fact that students unmotivated to perform could have a detrimental effect on teachers or schools judged to large extent by league tables and student progress (thankfully Sexey’s is not among these, having just been listed as top performing state academy in Somerset and Dorset for student progress in the latest Department for Education figures). Even with Ofsted’s refocus away from student grades, parents (understandably) continue to value league tables when making decisions for their children’s education.
When he was still Education Secretary, the Rt Hon Secretary Damian Hinds MP reportedly commented to the BBC that “The systematic use of unconditional offers is not in the interest of students and they should not be used just to get people through the door.” And yet, the practice has continued.
So why rehash an already well-made case? Because experience has shown that this trend for unconditional offers threatens more than just students’ A Level grades. It jeopardises their attitude to life skills acquisition too. At unprecedented levels, students previously enthusiastic about bolstering their Personal Statements with a range of extracurricular activities are in danger of becoming apathetic. The word has gotten round: it’s a buyer’s market and you’ll get a uni offer anyway. Why try so hard?
This trend for indifference doesn’t bode well – not only for our young people’s future employability, but also for our country, which benefits so much from the energy of entrepreneurialism, of giving-it-a-go, of offering help and volunteering that so many of us first learnt in our fundamental final teenage years. And in this coming Children’s Mental Health Week (3-7 February), it’s more important than ever to highlight the positive effects that volunteering and helping others can have on your own mental health.
To those students who have just finished submitting their UCAS applications for their 2019 university places, to those just embarking on the process, and to your parents concerned about your future employability – we implore you: Stay engaged. Stay motivated. Stay keen. Take advantage of all that school can offer you. Be encouraging. It may not now be beneficial to the next stage of your life, but you are laying foundations for your future.