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‘Didn’t get the A-level results you wanted? Don’t panic, here’s what to do…’

Posted on: 15 Aug 2018
Posted by: Barnaby Lenon

ISC chairman, Barnaby Lenon, details options available to A-level students on results day, if they find they didn’t manage to get the grades they’d hoped for...

University applicants


If your results were worse than expected you still have a reasonable chance of getting into a university because many universities have places which are unfilled at this stage. They may be willing to take applicants with lower-than-expected grades to fill those places.


UCAS helps place disappointed applicants using a process it calls ‘Clearing’. You'll know you're in Clearing if your online UCAS ‘Track’ status says 'You are in Clearing' or 'Clearing has started'. When you call the universities, give them your Clearing number (you can find this in Track) and Personal ID, so they can look up your application.


Early on Thursday 16 August, as soon as you get your results, look at your UCAS application on Track. If you have been rejected by your first and insurance choice universities you can nevertheless ring and ask if they will consider you. They might offer you a different subject to the one you were expecting to study, so be ready for that question. They might offer a joint honours course – two or more subjects leading to one degree. Be ready to explain why you are interested in the courses you are considering.


If this does not produce anything, then ring other universities you like, including ones which you applied to previously but turned down. Their phone numbers can be found using the UCAS online search tool.


Get informal offers over the phone – maybe from a variety of universities and colleges – then decide which one you want to accept. You will want to ask them about accommodation and of course you can always go and visit them.


Use the UCAS search tool to find courses with spaces. Keep checking because universities update their course information regularly. Add your best Clearing choice in Track but only after you have permission from the university or college. You can only add one choice at a time, but if the university/college doesn't confirm your place, you'll be able to add another. You will hear from UCAS whether your application has been successful.


You can always reapply for entry to university next year. Submit a revised UCAS application to your school/college in the next two months, having discussed it with them first.


Resitting my A-levels


If you know that you are going to need higher grades than you achieved to do the university course you want, then speak to your school/college about resitting next June. They may be able to recommend a course of action or you can apply to one of the many tutorial colleges that specialise in helping with resits for a fee. Submit a new UCAS application in the next few weeks.


Further Education colleges


Further Education (FE) colleges offer advanced courses to students who have taken A-levels. These courses are often vocational (they prepare you for a specific career) and range from level 3 (the same level as A-levels) up to level 6 (degree level). You apply directly to individual FE colleges online so start by looking at the websites of those within reach of your home – unlike universities, they rarely offer accommodation. After A-level results day, all FE colleges will have admissions staff you can speak to.


The 2018 National Student Survey captured the views of over 320,000 students in 400 post-18 educational institutions. Out of the top 100 providers in terms of student satisfaction, there were 28 FE colleges. Only seven universities featured in the top 100.


Getting an apprenticeship


Apprenticeships are paid jobs which include training. They vary in level of difficulty (level 2 is GCSE level up to level 6/7 – degree level). You apply for apprenticeships using the relevant websites; for example, www.gov.uk/apprenticeships-guide. Apprenticeships are ideal for students who do not want to or cannot go to university and who know the sort of job they would like.


The four leading British consultancy companies, Deloitte, PwC, EY and KPMG, are investing in apprenticeship programmes for bright 18-year-old school-leavers who have decided on a career, are keen to get to work in the “real world” and want to earn a salary, rather than borrow thousands of pounds to go to university. Participants emerge from the programmes as chartered accountants, auditors or technicians with professional or degree-level qualifications on a par with their friends who went to university.


Apply for a job


Many other firms are keen to take 18/19-year-olds who have taken A-levels but are not going to university. Working successfully for a good firm can be as effective as obtaining a university degree in some careers, without the debt.

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About Barnaby Lenon

Barnaby Lenon is chairman of ISC.

Barnaby taught at Sherborne School and Eton College for 12 years, was deputy head of Highgate School, head of Trinity School Croydon and head of Harrow (12 years). He has been a governor of twenty-two schools. He is chairman of governors of the London Academy of Excellence, a free school which opened in 2012 in Newham, east London. He is chairman of the Independent Schools Council, a trustee of the Yellow Submarine charity, a director of the New Schools Network and a member of the Advisory Council of Parents and Teachers for Excellence. He has recently published two books: ‘Much Promise: successful schools in England’ and ‘Other People’s Children: what happens to the academically least successful 50%?’