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Predicted and estimated grades must not be and do not have to be so central in decisions for universities and employers

  • 28 May 2020
  • By Ben Mason

This blog was kindly contributed by Ben Mason, Founder and CEO of globalbridge.

The overall impacts of Covid-19 are going to have an effect on almost every aspect of education. While the long-term is impossible to accurately predict, the immediate effects are being managed – albeit with very mixed results. Some schools are managing their curriculum well, others are putting out desperate calls on social media channels requesting students to read their tutors’ emails, which are being ignored. This is all before the reality of this summer’s cancelled exams hits and the questions around how these grades have been calculated.

Over time, there is plenty of optimism suggesting education will embrace its newfound digital opportunities and love for tech, and recruitment will discover new ways to find talent as students will continue to seek some form of higher education, but the question remains, who is really going to be hit the hardest by the long term effects of Covid-19? For a variety of reasons, the evidence seems to point to the graduating classes of 2019/20.

With exams currently suspended, teaching staff will be required to make unprecedented assessments of their students’ work in order to provide a predicted grade. While this is all that can be done given the climate, it underlines a key shortcoming of grades being the sole source of evidence for a young person’s ability.

In these uncertain times, candidates for university can only benefit from having a wide-ranging portfolio of skills and interests they can use when applying to university.

Kieran McLaughlin, Headmaster, Durham School, Durham

Understandably, there is much confusion as to what these interim measures could mean for our students’ futures. Some are predicting ‘wild-west’ behaviour when it comes to the calculations of this summers ‘predicted’ exam results, with the expectations from employers, parents and exam boards creating even greater pressure on teachers and schools. Amongst this level of confusion, doubts are inevitable. But are there fundamental issues in our recruitment processes as a country? Some would argue there have been systemic problems reaching back long before the word ‘coronavirus’ was commonplace in our newsfeeds.

Britain’s ability to attract, retain and educate skilled workers has dropped in recent years. According to the global talent competitiveness index, published by Adecco Group, the UK slipped from 3rd to 8th in world rankings published in 2017. Now in 2020, the plunge has continued:

The United Kingdom (UK) has fallen from 9th to 12th best country in the world for the ability to attract, retain, train and educate skilled workers.

Coronavirus will undoubtedly further impact recruitment at higher education level with international recruitment hanging in the balance for some institutions relying on this vital form of income. Yet, with the pandemic’s influence aside, this pattern of coming up short is suggested to be due to lackluster performances in the UKs ability to attract and retain talent. The Adecco report findings also identified that greater attention should be paid to vocational and technical skills, as more could be done to improve relevancy of secondary education to the modern-day labour market. So how is this being mirrored in the UK university recruitment market and what effects do such findings have on our ability to produce a skilled workforce, measure talent and retain talent?

Glasgow Clyde College serves a very diverse and talented student population, many of whom face significant challenges through socio-economic factors. The current pandemic has necessitated a change in our mindset as we support potential and existing learners remotely through online platforms. The issues surrounding shrinking employment opportunities and university recruitment mean we have a duty to our students to ensure they can highlight their wider skills, experience and interests so that uncertainty surrounding exam performance should not be a barrier to opportunity.

Jon Vincent, Principal & Chief Executive, Glasgow Clyde College, Glasgow
Hobby persons. People of creative professions at work. Artistic occupations, retro hobbies cartoon characters vector illustration set

The views about university recruitment are equally mixed. Every school has a story of a student who was given an unconditional offer too early and took their foot off the academic gas, thus underperforming in their exams. The traditional ‘recruiter universities’, who are more lenient on their intake, put into question whether there is any scrutiny in the application process at all for some universities. The impacts of Covid-19 are only going to rock the transition process between school and universities. With uncertainty around international students and travel and the added rocky reliability in predicted grades, it seems UK universities will be forced to dip into a decreasing pond with murkier waters. It’s high time to pursue a change.

There is clearly an opportunity here for universities to view supporting evidence around applicants when traditional methods are no longer available – and to prove predicted grades do not have to be the only measure of a young person’s capabilities.

Unfortunately, the likely outcome is that Russell Group universities, in response to lack of international students, will reduce their grades to fill up their places, leaving the traditionally ‘recruiter universities’ and smaller institutions to either fight for survival, or at worst close. As students attempt to navigate a future on pause, there remains a provision and recruitment issue for graduates. Spirits seem undeterred, as according to joint research, current undergraduates are optimistic about entering the workforce, with over 79 per cent of students surveyed feeling confident about obtaining a graduate level role. However, the Higher Education Policy Institute study identified key gaps between students’ expectations of the labour market and the reality.

For many students, the ability to access internships and placements is a difficult process, often requiring the support of individual networks or parental contacts. This process is currently close to impossible for the current cohorts with many placements essentially being cancelled during lockdown. Apprenticeships are being put on hold – as well as graduate recruitment. Many students report that by the time they come to look for graduate jobs, they are under pressure from their looming exams. While good practice has been observed in small pockets, the general lack of effective early engagement means the recruitment process is too late, too rushed and too unclear.

If our ability to identify and recruit talent was consistent and effective, we wouldn’t be consistently slipping down the world rankings. This is a process which must start earlier by engaging young people during their training and education. We were not only required to look more internally for our future workforce due to Brexit, but Covid-19 has questioned the ability to not only attract an international workforce, but undergraduates as well.

Early engagement with talent can greatly improve at school, college and graduate level. How better to reduce the regional ‘brain drain’ than to connect with talent earlier and give them visibility of opportunities on their doorstep. Show them the reasons to stay, or they will always look to leave. There is inconsistency and a disconnect between education and industry, talent and opportunity. How do premier league football clubs recruit talent? They connect with the best talent across the world at a stage where they can influence and guide their development and pathways. This might not be possible for every employment sector, however, a collective approach to engage and guide earlier has got to be more effective than a careers fair!

In these trying times, we are on the brink of an unprecedented transformational change in the way universities and businesses will recruit, as they respond to the unprecedented times that the Covid-19 outbreak has created. There must be innovation in how the whole process takes place. Something new and innovative must be provided for this whole cohort of young people, in order to support their future and enable them to truly evidence their grades, as alone, these will undoubtedly be questioned when compared to their 2021 and 2022 peers.

The current crisis has highlighted more than ever the need for students and young people to add evidence to support their applications, in a new way to suit the world Gen Z are growing up in.

The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated more than ever, the need to think in less traditional ways about students’ profiles and indeed in how we measure their success.

Ian Emerson, Deputy Headmaster, Latymer Upper School, London

Furthermore, as well as engaging students earlier, it is essential to ensure equality and fairness are the cornerstones for the way universities and employers interact with students. Although there is an increase in students from deprived backgrounds attending university, the critics argue there is insufficient progress. Chris Millward, Office for Students (OfS) director for fair access and participation, has previously highlighted the inequality faced by many students of disadvantaged backgrounds and the lack of a fair playing field to evidence their talent:

You are more than twice as likely to go to university if you grow up in a more advantaged neighbourhood, and five times as likely to attend one of the most selective universities. So many talented people are being failed by a system that should be a gateway to a rewarding life. This is simply not acceptable.

The digital nature of globalbridge not only levels the playing field of opportunity for young people by ensuring talent is the key identifier, not socioeconomic background, ethnicity, schooling or gender, but it also enables universities to establish early engagement with students. The most powerful version of this is to give young people more visibility of the opportunities that are available to them. To still rely on old school careers fairs where the quality of sweets on your stand is the currency for success, along with attracting students by investing in the latest branded pens, power packs, rulers or stress balls, is hard to believe. Can every university visit every school and be visible to every student? If not, then ‘widening participation’ needs to get wider.

As Principal of a school in one of the most socio-economically deprived areas in the UK, I am extremely concerned about the “gap” between pupil premium students and non-pupil premium students widening even further. The current Covid crisis has put immense pressure on vulnerable groups, both financially and emotionally. My concern that this will present as another barrier for students accessing higher and further education as other issues and pressures interfere with aspirations and plans. The worry is that the grades awarded this Summer will be perceived as unreliable and this will hinder students even further. The truth is these students will have had life changing experiences and they are so much more than their grades.

Val Wigham, Headmistress, Studio West School, Newcastle

globalbridge is responding to the current crisis by providing schools and their students, with the digital means to not only evidence their predicted grades via all forms of multimedia – music, audio clips, example of written work, performance videos and much more, but giving young people a digital record of achievement to support lifelong learning and access to opportunities. Our first cohort will take these digital profiles to university with them this September. We want to support education so young people don’t miss out on the opportunity to shout about their #TalentStack, allowing them to evidence their aspirations, skills, achievements and qualifications via the most appropriate means possible, not just a grade on a piece of paper.

1 comment

  1. Jonathan Marks says:

    This makes the case for globalbridge a “No Brainer”. Great article

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