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Williamson publishes plan for pupils to get university offers only after A-level results out

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, has given his backing to sweeping reform of the university admissions system, which could mean UK students will only be offered places at university once they have received their A-level results.

The radical shift, revealed in the Guardian last year, is the subject of a new government consultation in which Williamson nails his colours to the mast, calling for change to increase fairness for disadvantaged students and see off unconditional offers.

Personal statements, which prospective university students are currently required to submit as part of their application, could also be scrapped, amid criticism that they reflect the amount of support available to each applicant rather than academic ability.

Under the current system sixth-form students apply up to a year before starting university and are made offers on the basis of teacher predicted grades. Critics say that predicted grades are inaccurate and the admissions system as it stands lacks transparency.

Support has been building in the sector for a post-qualification admissions system (PQA), with both the university admissions service, Ucas, and Universities UK, which represents vice chancellors, in favour of change. The consultation warns however that despite the potential benefits, “the challenges we may face in implementation may result in the policy being unviable”.

In a foreword to the consultation, Williamson said it was becoming increasingly evident that the current system of admissions to higher education was preventing some students from reaching their full potential at the first hurdle.


By using predicted grades, it is limiting the aspirations of students before they know what they can achieve. We know that this disproportionately affects the brightest children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.I want to smash through ceilings that are preventing students from reaching their full potential, and I believe exploring this reform will help to do that.

The consultation outlines two possible approaches. In the first students would be unable to apply until after their results, with results day moved forward to the end of July, offers in September and the university start date pushed back to early October. In the second, students apply in the January ahead of their A-levels, but don’t receive offers until they get their results.

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The number of Covid-19 patients in Scottish hospitals has hit a new record of 2,004 overnight, including 161 people in intensive care, amid signs the current lockdown across much of Scotland is suppressing the spread of the virus.

There were 89 deaths of people confirmed to have Covid-19 overnight, close to recent records of 93 on 8 and 9 January, and 92 on Wednesday. In all, 5,468 people with positive Covid tests have died in Scotland since the start of the pandemic.

John Swinney, the deputy first minister, admitted many Scottish hospitals were now under severe pressure dealing with the surge in cases, but said the latest assessment of the R number, the rate of community transmission, was now at about 1 for Scotland.

“That assessment produces some further evidence that the [lockdown] measures are at the very least helping stabilise cases, but numbers remain disturbingly high,” Swinney said, standing in for Nicola Sturgeon for Thursday’s daily coronavirus briefing.

The Courier newspaper in Dundee has been running a detailed tracker on its website, showing the daily data and latest seven-day trends for Scotland, at both local council and national level. It shows that Scotland’s rate of cases and test positivity rates are falling, after the main post-Christmas surge in cases.

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