Contextual offers - how do they work please?

(188 Posts)
GnomeDePlume Thu 28-Jul-16 21:26:33

DD is just about to enter sixth form at our local school. She will be studying for A levels and hoping to be heading for university afterwards.

I have heard that some universities make slightly lower offers to students from some state schools.

Can anyone explain how contextual offers work and whether DD will need to apply for a contextual offer please?

Coconutty Thu 28-Jul-16 21:28:58

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GnomeDePlume Thu 28-Jul-16 21:53:02

Thank you Coconutty, I have looked at the Bristol list of schools and unsurprisingly DD's school is on the list.

Do all other universities use the same list? Do you know if there is a list of universities making contextual offers please?

spike1709 Thu 28-Jul-16 22:15:59

It's not just the school you go to - but also other information can be taken into account - postcode, whether you've been in care etc. It allows the university to make sense of the overall picture - so for example multiple A*s at gcse would be excellent at some schools and below average at very selective independents. A school worth its salt will also point out if a student really has gone beyond what would be expected in their reference.

I can't actually find an overall summary of what university does what with it - as previous poster suggested look at the admissions section of individual unis your daughter is interested in. I am involved in the school side of uni admissions now, and the message they give you (in public anyway) is that they are desperate to take people with potential who have worked hard in difficult circumstances - although the grades cant vary a huge amount, because too much positive discrimination and they might struggle with the course and drop out.

spike1709 Thu 28-Jul-16 22:21:41

Also. It might be worth trying to get her on a summer school (next year) run by an organisation like the sutton trust. She might be eligible, and they work with bristol amongst others.

Coconutty Thu 28-Jul-16 22:30:48

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titchy Thu 28-Jul-16 22:47:55

Bluntly, not that many universities make contextual offers at all. Bristol is unusual in that it has a blanket contextual offer, others will depend on the department. But most won't.

There is no notion whatsoever of the Bristol list (which is just the bottom x% of schools by the way) is a list that everyone else uses.

haybott Fri 29-Jul-16 08:06:37

Bristol's contextual offer policy is effectively a marketing policy i.e. to encourage high achieving students from slightly below average schools to apply. I agree completely with Titchy that other universities certainly do not use these list and do not even agree with it.

For example, I have a cousin who lives in a million pound plus house; whose parents were university educated in the 1970s; who attended private school until 11. She got a contextual offer from Bristol because her comprehensive has a mixed catchment - the top 30% of pupils do very well at her school, the bottom 70% much less so. Given that she herself was actually taught in classes where everyone achieved As and A stars, and had such an affluent background, it seems to me completely unfair that she got a contextual offer. Meanwhile a child who got into a high achieving school from a much poorer background with no history of university attendance in family wouldn't get a contextual offer from Bristol.

haybott Fri 29-Jul-16 08:10:55

BTW in some subjects contextual offers are really not used much.

For maths, the typical offers from top 20 or 30 universities are AAA, A star AA and higher at the very top few places. Maths departments are very reluctant to drop much below these offers for contextual offers/in clearing because lower grades in maths and maths related subjects from any kind of school are correlated with poor performance at degree level. It just wouldn't be fair to students to accept a B at Maths A level, because students wouldn't be able to cope with the course.

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GnomeDePlume Fri 29-Jul-16 08:25:23

Thanks haybott that is interesting and makes sense. In fact currently DD is looking at Maths/Physics as these are her strongest subjects at the moment.

Obviously this is all theoretical at the moment, still waiting for GCSE results.

I will look with her at summer schools.

The school does not have a great reputation for former students going to RG universities. We are a bit worried that the school isnt able to give the best polish for applying to top universities. I dont think reduced grades is so much the need but for her to get a look in at all. We are not sure that the school gives much support to university applications.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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haybott Fri 29-Jul-16 08:41:03

I dont think reduced grades is so much the need but for her to get a look in at all.

But the vast majority of courses, even at "Russell Group" universities, select entirely on grades and predicted grades. There is no trick to getting an offer: everyone with the required grades and close to the right predicted grades get an offer.

Obviously Oxbridge, subjects such as medicine, very popular courses such as Economics at LSE, arts and music courses etc etc do select using reference, personal statement and interview (and pretests at Oxbridge). This board tends to discuss courses such as these so often that people don't realise that you can e.g. get an offer from all but the top 3 or so Maths courses in the UK based on grades alone (no interview, no selection based on personal statement). Less than 5% of university courses use anything but grades on UCAS form to decide on offers (and admin staff rather than than academic staff give out most offers).

In the coming years, demographic changes mean that there will be fewer UK 18 year olds applying for university. Meanwhile we will most likely lose a big fraction of international students because of Brexit and direct government funding of universities will go down. Universities will be keen to take as many UK students as they possibly can - so it will if anything be easier to get into all but the very top few universities.

Needmoresleep Fri 29-Jul-16 08:43:19

Haybott/Titchy I tend to agree with you on Bristol.

Close to me are two formerly very troubled schools, who though doing better now, are still largely avoided by the local middle class and have a fair proportion of challenging pupils. One still has 93% FSM, probably the highest in the country. There is also a less selective private school, which often takes expat kids arriving in the wrong school year, kids who have struggled to settle at their first secondary school, and those that did not reach the bar for 11+ at other central London schools. Results are lower reflecting its limited selection, but we know a couple of bright kids, who fell into the failing to settle category, who did very well.

Guess which are on the Bristol list? Clue: neither of the two very challenged state schools. An interesting concept of disadvantage.

GnomeDePlume Fri 29-Jul-16 08:49:46

A level choice shouldnt be an issue. She is planning to study Maths, Further Maths, Physics & Chemistry so all facilitating subjects.

My worry with the school is that it has been in and out of Special Measures like it is caught on the door handle. The latest thing was a pre-warning notice letter in January. The Head has also just left (we have had more Heads than years connected with the school!).

All of this means that management time is spent fire fighting rather than focus on anything other than getting the school to limp through another year.

BertrandRussell Fri 29-Jul-16 08:53:29

Do you think she is likely to get lower grades than she would get somewhere else?

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GnomeDePlume Fri 29-Jul-16 08:57:18

I think there is a risk that if she was on the boundary for a grade that the school would not necessarily recognise.

The sixth form is a consortium college so sixth form subjects are offered across different schools. This can mean that the support offered is fragmented.

titchy Fri 29-Jul-16 09:17:33

Poor performing schools are only identified by their A level results btw so a very poor school with no sixth form won't be on the list.

OP - if FM is on her list presumably she is very able at Maths - A*? She shouldn't have any trouble getting decent offers. Barring Oxbridge and Imperial, any top 20 Physics uni will offer, and probably even accept if she misses a grade, simply because of the lack of applicants.

GnomeDePlume Fri 29-Jul-16 09:54:51

titchy her school was on the Bristol list. I think that the school assigns a 'home' school so A levels are applied to the original school even though the sixth form is operated as a consortium.

Yes, very able at maths, A* for GCSE last year and currently targeting A* for GCSE Further Maths and Physics.

Any road up, we will have to see how GCSEs turn out first then worry about the next stage. I just like to have my worrying done in advance.

BertrandRussell Fri 29-Jul-16 10:07:13

If she's on track for A*s I'm not sure why you think she will need contextual offers.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Needmoresleep Fri 29-Jul-16 10:35:26

Titch, the schools I was talking about do have sixth forms. They probably send very few if any to RG. But that is no reason why they should not be considered.

titchy Fri 29-Jul-16 10:35:33

Well then she'll be fine - she is very unlikely to get a contextual offer, but clearly won't need it anyway, particularly for Maths or Physics.

(My point about schools being on or off the list was in response to needmoresleep's post about a deprived school not being on the list - it';s probably because it only goes to year 11.)

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