Rules of the game – Sutton Trust Report

The Sutton Trust have today launched their Rules of the Game report, the report suggests that the brightest disadvantaged students are losing out by basing decisions on predicted grades rather than on achieved grades.

The report, Rules of the Game, by Dr Gill Wyness, Senior Lecturer in Economics of Education at the UCL Institute of Education, says that the admission process itself may be responsible for the fact that the most advantaged applicants were six times more likely to get into selective universities than the most disadvantaged in 2016.

The report shows high attaining advantaged pupils tend to choose the best course for them given their abilities but almost 3,000 disadvantaged, high-achieving students – or 1,000 per year – have their grades under-predicted. By contrast, low attaining disadvantaged students are more likely to be matched to courses with similar students, while low attaining but advantaged students are far more likely to be overmatched: to attend courses with higher ability peers.

Students currently make their choices based on predicted rather than actual A-level grades. This could result in them applying to universities which are less selective than their credentials would permit.

The report also says that personal statements are a further barrier for poorer students, as those from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to be supported in preparing these essays. Their statements often have more grammatical and spelling errors as a result, and students are able to provide fewer examples of the work and life experiences valued by universities.

The report says that less advantaged students lack the right information, advice and guidance needed in the university application process and this may lead them to making “sub-optimal decisions” in their university choices. It urges that these students should have more customised careers advice and more support from teachers and coaches to navigate the application process.

The Sutton Trust is also recommending that

  • Post Qualification Admissions (PQA) – where students apply only after they have received their A level results – should be trialled and implemented.
  • Universities and UCAS should review the format of the personal statement, considering how it could be improved and there should be more transparency about how specific subject departments use and evaluate personal statements.
  • Universities should use contextual data in their admissions process to open up access to students from less privileged backgrounds and there should be greater transparency from universities when communicating how contextual data is used.
  • All pupils should receive a guaranteed level of careers advice from professional impartial advisers, supported by the Careers and Enterprise Company and the new Career Leaders announced by the government in last week’s careers strategy.

Read the full report here

Next steps:

  • Read Justine Greening’s plan to support social mobility here
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