Academy withdraws pupils from A-level exams over poor mocks

Exam candidateImage copyright PA

Students at an academy in London have been withdrawn from A-level exams after they did badly in mock exams.

Students at UCL Academy said they now feared having to defer their university applications, while others worry that they may have to pay about £450 to sit an exam elsewhere.

The Association of School and College Leaders described it as “pretty unethical conduct”.

The school said it has “robust plans in place” to support students.

“In some cases this takes the form of an additional year in the sixth form to overcome whatever barriers there are,” it added.

“Our very experienced careers adviser and our student wellbeing service is core to this support.”

Zehra – whose surname we are not using – told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme that she and other students had been emailed during the Easter holidays saying they had been withdrawn from their chemistry exams.

“I have health problems, but they didn’t care. There was no consideration.”

She said she had offers to go to university in September, but now she was facing rejecting these or deferring for another year.

“I already have anxiety and health problems and this made it a lot worse,” she added.

She said there were “genuine reasons” why her February mock exam had not gone “as well as it could have”, and that it was unfair to withdraw her.

UCL Academy, which is based in Swiss Cottage, said “any decision to withdraw a student from an exam is a difficult one for us to take and is one we make working with a student and their family”.


Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was “pretty disturbing and pretty unethical conduct” by the academy.

“It seems discourteous being done through email,” he added.

“All that preparation has suddenly come to nothing.

“Schools will always have entry requirements to attend to, and they will have continuation grades at the end of Year 12 to proceed to 13, but here [the students] have got to the 11th hour and been told this. This seems totally unacceptable.”

The academy said “any student at risk of not passing was identified early in the school year. This led to meetings with parents and teachers to flag the concern and agree a plan of support and action. Targets were agreed and action necessary to fulfil them were put in place”.

“If a student felt they were still in a position to achieve a pass we continued to support them to a final assessment in April.

“In special circumstances we agreed to extend this into the Easter holiday to give students the best chance possible.

“We continue to offer support and guidance to individual students.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The pupils affected said it had disrupted their revision at an important time of year

A second student, Neville, told the Victoria Derbyshire programme he was being withdrawn from his maths exam as he was “underperforming in the mocks”.

“Two weeks later they then did it for chemistry, too,” he added.

He said he was having to pay to do the exams externally, at a cost of at least £450 per subject.

“It’s messed up my revision. All of this has caused so much stress for me to try and just find somewhere to sit my exams, and I haven’t been able to revise as much.

“The school didn’t provide any support on what to do next. It’s awful.

“It’s really knocked my confidence. I’ve started doubting myself.”

UCL Academy said 97% of its A-level exams would be taken as planned.

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

“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.”

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