Thursday 1 December 2016

Why UCAS Grades Are Anti-Growth Mindset

I hate doing UCAS predicted grades.

In September, us year 13 teachers are asked to predict what grade we think the students will realistically achieve at the end of the year, and these are put on their university application form (the UCAS form). These have to be realistic and not inflated, because that's the only way that the system would be fair. As these predictions are made so early on in the year, we generally base them on their AS grade and maybe the first couple of assessments of year 13.

But here's the problem: many students are disappointed with their AS grade and aim to improve on it in year 13. They work twice as hard, now that they realise how difficult it is, and as a result many of them often do improve on their grade. But as a teacher, you can't necessarily predict this, and even if you think this might be the case, you can't really justify putting the UCAS grade higher if you have no evidence that they will improve.

I have a student who got a grade C in her AS Maths. I made her UCAS grade a C, because that seemed reasonable. But I think she underperformed last year and with a bit of extra dedication and a lot of support from me and my colleagues, she could get a grade B, or even higher. So when she asked me whether I could raise her UCAS grade for her so she would have a better chance of being accepted by universities, it was difficult for me to say no. If I said no, I would be telling her I don't think she can achieve above a grade C. Or at least, that's what she would think I was telling her. And this could affect her self-confidence, and could even become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If we give a student a low UCAS grade (because evidence suggests that is the grade they are most likely to get if everything remains the same as last year), then we are sending the message that we don't believe they can improve. One of my ex-students came into school the other day and we were talking about how his UCAS grade was a D (which was perfectly reasonable, as he had only got an E at AS) but he ended up getting a grade B. He said, "I proved you wrong". This actually made me quite upset! He had obviously spent the whole year thinking I believed he could not achieve higher than a D. Now maybe this is what motivated him to go on to achieve a grade B, and hence it was a good thing his UCAS grade was so low. But it still upsets me to think that he thought I didn't believe in him!

Conversely, giving a student a high UCAS grade might give them a false sense of security. If they think they are very likely to get a grade A*, they might not push themselves as much. They might see their UCAS grade as the minimum grade they will achieve with the minimum amount of effort.

I believe that predictions can be very powerful in influencing outcomes. When I was revising for my third year exams at university, I made predictions of my percentage scores for every exam I took, wrote these on a piece of paper and stuck them on the wall above my desk. I made predictions before I started revising but these predictions were eerily accurate. Ever since then I have been convinced that what we believe will happen, will happen. I have actually made a vision board for this year's A2 results, and stuck this on the wall above my desk in the maths office. On it it has every year 13 student's name, and the grade I need them to achieve in order for us to get an ALPS grade 1. These grades are not the same as the students' UCAS grades, they are higher. So it doesn't make sense that I'm telling the students I believe one thing when I'm really aiming for another.

I don't want to make the students' UCAS grades too high because it seems against the rules of UCAS, and I want to do things fairly. But am I being silly? Do all the other schools inflate their grades on little evidence? Should I just predict them all A*s and then work my socks off to make sure they get those grades?

Anyone else in a similar situation? What's your policy for making UCAS grades?

Emma x x x


  1. Hi Emma,
    Our policy is 1 grade above AS grade. But I agree with you that they're such a difficult thing to talk to students about.
    I think it's important to stress to students we believe they have the potential to get above a "insert low grade" but at the moment they aren't showing signs of getting there maybe?
    Also, is it possible to get an ALPS grade 1? I was under the impression that that would mean the best results in the country?

    1. I think grade 1 means you're in the top 5%. According to my head of sixth form's calculator, to get a grade 1 I need 5 A*s, 5 As, 5 Bs and 4 Cs. I was only 0.02 points off a grade 1 last year!

    2. Also it surprises me that your policy is one grade above AS. Our policy (in maths) until recently was one grade below AS! Maybe my HoD is just a more cautious (or pessimistic?) type?

  2. Replies
    1. Just testing to see whether you'd read it! :)