CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Anger as UCL Academy blocks pupils from taking A-levels weeks before exams

School insists it has support plans in place

16 May, 2019 — By Helen Chapman

PUPILS at a flagship academy who have been told they will not be allowed to sit their A-levels just a month before the exams, say they are victims of a bid to protect the school’s reputation.

A group of students at the UCL Academy  in Swiss Cottage, have told how they have been withdrawn from the tests amid doubts about how well they would perform.

The move, however, has left some of them at risk of losing conditional offers for university places, they say.

“We can’t all achieve As and A*s, and that should be fine,” said one of the teenagers affected. “I have a right to an education and should be able to sit my exam. All they care about is their reputation and how they look.”

The school – Camden’s only academy at secondary school level – said the decisions were not taken lightly and were taken based on each student’s needs. One student said they passed their mock exam for chemistry with a C grade in November, but, after getting a U grade in the February mock exam, were told they had been withdrawn.

“I had already informed the school that I had interviews for universities in February that I was focusing on,” the student said. “I received conditional offers from universities based on my predicted grades but now I will have to turn it down because I am being withdrawn from the exam.”

Pupils were contacted with the decisions during the Easter break.

Another student, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “It’s all about their reputation and their overall grade. They want as many people as possible to get A and A* grades. They didn’t give us any advice and there was no apology. There was no warning saying this could happen. It is not fair on us. We are humans, we have our own ambitions. I think it’s to do with their name – UCL Academy. They want it to be seen as a prestigious place to go where you can succeed and prosper.”

UCL Academy, in Adelaide Road, opened in 2012. It said that “97 per cent of A-level exams will be sat as planned”. Students who have been withdrawn have been calling around tuition centres to see if alternative arrangements can be made for them to sit the exams. Quotes of at least £500 to sit one exam have come back.

“I can’t afford it,” one said. “I will be seeing the school’s careers adviser next week to discuss what to do next. I wanted to go to university but I was told that doing my exams would be a waste of time. It was very discouraging.”

The academy said in a statement that A-level completion rates were published every year and were in line with or above local and national averages.

“Only in individual circumstances would a decision be taken to withdraw a student from an examination, or recommend a switch to an AS exam,” it added.

“We make decisions based on the individual needs of students. If a student’s assessments demonstrate over time that they are not passing the course, or if a student raises personal circumstances that mean a deferral is more appropriate, then withdrawal might be considered. Not to do so could potentially restrict future university applications. This is only done when this possibility has been flagged and discussed with the family in advance.”

The statement added: “With any affected student, we have robust plans in place to support the best outcomes for them, even if it means taking a longer time to reach their goals. Support in place is bespoke to the student to help determine their next steps and progression to university or elsewhere. We do not believe that any school would take a decision like this lightly and for us it is only something that would take place after much thought and extended opportunities for a student to demonstrate their best work.”

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