Sevenoaks school has rewritten its policy on predicted grades, it said on Friday, after the Guardian revealed it had been asking teachers to exaggerate Ucas predictions for some of its lowest-performing students for many years.
The development came after the Guardian reported on Wednesday that the £38,000-a-year school’s staff handbook set out a policy of asking teachers to boost Ucas predictions for some of the lowest-achieving students each year to help them secure university offers.
On Friday, the Charity Commission said that it would be “engaging” with trustees over “governance concerns” and Ucas said that it had issued the school with a reminder of its guidelines.
The school – which says that it continues to “refute any suggestion that we would unfairly exaggerate Ucas predictions” – said that governors had reviewed its approach to predicted grades and it was now “implementing changes to the staff handbook so there can be no doubt that the school follows Ucas principles”.
It is understood that the Charity Commission engaged with the school after a broad set of concerns including predictions were flagged to the regulator. The regulator is not directly responsible for exam issues. The school said it was “cooperating fully” with the body.
Meanwhile, Ucas said that it had reminded the school of its guidelines after it was made aware of the school’s approach to predicted grades. This was understood to have been before the Guardian report.
The school documents seen by the Guardian say that predictions for the international baccalaureate (IB) exams, which the school uses instead of A-levels, may be increased “to facilitate an application to a more selective university/course”. But the Ucas guidelines say that “predicted grades should be set in isolation of an applicant’s university or college choice(s)”.
After the Guardian story was published, parents and alumni received a letter from the acting headteacher, Theresa Homewood, seeking to reassure them over the school’s approach to predicted grades.
While it did not dispute the details of the documents it said it wanted to “ensure there is no confusion as to our approach and processes”, and that the school “refutes any suggestion that we would unfairly exaggerate Ucas predictions”.
It also told parents that “a significant majority of Sevenoaks students meet or exceed their Ucas predicted grades, and, in this respect, we significantly outperform the national average”, in line with its previous statement to the Guardian that in 2018 74% of pupils met their predictions.
But on Thursday it amended its position and indicated that it had inadvertently provided an incorrect figure, meaning it could not say that its predictions significantly outperformed national comparators that year. The school later apologised to parents for the error, which it said was “an honest mistake which we thought was correct at the time and was identified by us not a third party”.
Amid warnings from academics and former teachers that such issues were commonplace in the private school sector, the Department for Education was also critical of the approach and warned: “Schools should not be inflating predicted grades … If this is not the case in any school, we expect them to change their policies.”
The IB organisation, which regulates a separate set of predictions used to help set grade boundaries and not usually a part of university admissions, said it had examined the last five years of predictions and “confirms that all of these are in line with the … results achieved”.