Medicine and dentistry schools will expand courses following a 20 per cent increase in applications with 9,000 students set to study the subjects from September with rampant A-level grade inflation blamed for the number of people qualifying.
The number of places on these courses at universities in England is capped by the Government to ensure teaching, learning, and assessment standards are maintained.
But the cap will now be adjusted to allow for over 9,000 places on medical and dentistry courses for the 2021 student intake, the Department for Education (DfE) has announced.
It said that applications for medicine and dentistry have increased by 20 per cent this year compared to last year – with The Guardian reporting the DfE asked medical schools to take applicants from heavily oversubscribed courses elsewhere in England as hundreds more students applied after being graded by their teachers.
The announcement comes ahead of A-level results day next week, when tens of thousands of school leavers will find out their grades after this summer’s exams were cancelled for the second year in a row because of the pandemic.
Labour accused ministers of being in ‘panic mode’ with the announcement, just days before results day and after last summer’s fiasco around grading led to thousands of A-level students having their results downgraded from school estimates by a controversial algorithm, before Ofqual announced a U-turn.
The number of school leavers applying to study medicine and dentistry has increased by a fifth this year compared to last – so the Government is pumping more money into places
The Government then announced it would lift the cap on the number of places on medicine courses following the U-turn, after institutions warned they had limited space for students with higher results.
The shadow education secretary, Kate Green, said: ‘Young people getting their results have worked incredibly hard in unprecedented circumstances.
‘The Prime Minister has let them down with a second year of chaos and confusion, he must guarantee every student getting their results will be able to progress with their education or employment.
‘If the Government can create these additional healthcare places at just days’ notice, it begs serious questions about why they have not acted sooner to tackle the ongoing workforce crisis in the NHS.’
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: ‘Throughout this pandemic our NHS heroes have been at the forefront of the response and their resilience, dedication and perseverance has clearly inspired the next generation.
‘Medicine and dentistry have always been popular courses and we have seen significant demand for places this year alongside other subjects like engineering and nursing.
‘We want to match student enthusiasm and ensure as many as possible can train this year to be the doctors and healthcare professionals of the future.’
Universities are expanding entrance exams after Vice-Chancellors claimed A level grades achieved during the Covid pandemic are no longer objective.
A study shows four in ten pupils are in line for top marks when results are dished out next week, with education bosses concerned about how they can identify the brightest students amongst a ‘tsunami’ of high grades.
With exams cancelled for the second year in a row, pupils are instead being given grades based on teachers’ assessments, and the Government has admitted some disruption will remain into the following term as well.
It comes amid warnings in a report that there could be even higher exam grade inflation this year than in 2020, which the pass rate reached 100% for the first time ever.
In a bid to try and straighten out the crowded field, top universities are now bringing in their own assessments – a trend experts believe is set to continue in future years.
A university source told the Telegraph: ‘It will be extraordinarily messy.
‘It literally could be a tsunami of As and that puts the Russell Group in a very odd position: how do you disaggregate the best students?’
Universities are expanding entrance exams after Vice-Chancellors claimed A level grades achieved during the Covid pandemic are no longer objective
Entrance exams are already set for degrees including English, law, history and classics at Oxford.
The university has also rolled out the Thinking Skills Assessment, testing students’ problem solving and critical thinking, for subjects such as economics and human sciences.
Fierce rival Cambridge and some of the country’s top medical schools also run admissions tests, while Imperial College will make physics hopefuls sit an exam from next year.
But senior figures told the Telegraph the assessments are likely to become more commonplace over the coming years as concerns grow over how credible A level grades actually are in this climate.
The concerns come as a study claims the proportion of A and A* grades could reach a record high of almost 40% next week, with teachers likely to be ‘even more sympathetic’ than last year.
The paper by Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, comes ahead of A-level results day on Tuesday.
Pupils have had their entire two-year courses blighted by lockdowns, with teachers responsible for deciding grades after exams were cancelled.
Professor Smithers said: ‘The early signs are that it will be another bumper year for grades, justified as compensation for all the disruption suffered. The danger is that the inflated grades, in other words, lower standards, will become the new norm.’
His report says the 2021 candidates have ‘encountered disruption in both years of their courses, whereas their predecessors had suffered in only one’, and therefore teachers may treat them ‘even more sympathetically’.
Last year, a record 38.6% of grades awarded were A and A* – the largest proportion in history. In 2019 it had been 25.5% and in the early 2000s it was 17%.
Professor Smithers said while it was ‘possible’ grading could become harsher again this year, he questioned whether it would be ‘politically acceptable’.
And he added: ‘The expansion of the A* and A grades means that a much wider range of abilities is bundled up in them, which makes it much more difficult for universities to select accurately and fairly.
‘Some of those admitted may not be able to cope and will have wasted time and money, and some who are much more able will be missing out’.
He said the ‘paradox’ for results issued in the pandemic is that the ‘least well-prepared sixth-formers of all time have been awarded the highest grades ever’.
Pictured: A call being answered at The University of Sheffield’s Clearing call centre, an experience a number of students will go through in order to try and secure places
The report also suggested that grade inflation this year will be greatest in ‘subjective’ arts and humanities courses.
Last year the proportion of A* grades in performing arts, music and drama close to doubled compared with the previous year. Meanwhile, maths top grades only increased by 20%.
He also said girls have benefited more from teacher assessment, with female candidates jumping even further ahead of males last year. A 0.1 percentage point gap in 2019 surged by 3.3 points last year.
Professor Smithers’ report ‘A-levels 2021: Another Year of Grade Inflation?’ draws on his lifetime’s research on exam performance.
His data stretches back to 1965 and he’s written annual reports on his insights for the last decade.