Top universities defy Gavin Williamson's order to stop Zoom classes

Russell Group universities defy Gavin Williamson’s order to stop Zoom classes despite calls for a return to lecture theatres – as they offer NO clearing places for first time after record A-level results

  • Gavin Williamson previously demanded the end of Zoom and online lessons
  • However, 20 of 24 Russell Group universities said that online lessons will stay
  • Comes after a record A Level results day with almost half given A and A* grades 
  • Universities like Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds not in Clearing this year 

Some of Britain’s leading universities have revealed they’ll continue teaching classes on Zoom despite Education Secretary Gavin Williamson calling for online lessons to end. 

Of the 24 institutions that make up the elite Russell Group, 20 confirmed that some undergraduate teaching will continue to be online. 

Meanwhile, institutions including Russell Group members Birmingham and Leeds have confirmed that they had no places available through Clearing this year after grade inflation saw A Level results hit a record high yesterday.

Manchester University, which regularly has several places available through Clearing, also had no vacancies this year.  

Almost half of all pupils were given A or A* results – up from 38.5 per cent in 2020 and 25.2 per cent in 2019. 

Yet the results have triggered fears over grade inflation and of courses being over-subscribed – prompting some universities to offer pupils £10,000 to defer their entry for the year. 

Another concern will be the return of Zoom teaching, after Mr Williamson demanded the Office for Students investigate any institution that still offers online lessons from next semester. 

The regulator said it would not enforce the demand and also said universities could teach pupils however they wished as long as they were providing a ‘good quality experience of higher education’. 

Students wave their A-Level exam results after collecting them as Britain’s top universities defy Gavin Williamson’s call for no more Zoom classes

King’s College London, Birmingham and Manchester universities were among the institutions without Clearing places this year

Yesterday’s results came after teachers decided grades for a second year in a row after exams were cancelled due to the pandemic. They used coursework, classroom performance and mini-assessments to reach their decisions.

However, the huge success of pupils meant more met their university entry requirements than ever before, prompting some institutions to close their Clearing programmes before the results were even released. 

The University of Birmingham said in a statement: ‘We are able to confirm that we do not have any places available in Clearing & Adjustment this year. You can search our available courses for 2022 or if you are still interested in applying for study in 2021 check out the UCAS website. We wish you all the best.’

King’s College London said: ‘For 2021 entry, King’s College London will not have places on any of our courses via Clearing or Adjustment on A level results day. If you currently have an offer to study at King’s, you can find out more about confirmation on our website to get prepared for results day.’

While Leeds University simply wrote: ‘Leeds is a popular university and our courses are in high demand. As a result, this year we do not have any vacancies in clearing.’ 

The row has further damaged the Education Secretary’s position with rumours that Boris Johnson could sack him for his ‘anti-woke’ Equalities Minister after Mr Williamson was accused of ruining the credibility of A-levels by ‘baking in’ soaring grade inflation and allowing a growing results gap between private and state schools.

Mr Williamson, nicknamed Private Pike by critics who compare him to the hapless young soldier in Dad’s Army, is said to be fighting plans for Kemi Badenoch to take over in the next reshuffle, reportedly telling allies he ‘knows where the bodies are’.

It came as it was revealed that A-level grades could be scrapped in a massive overhaul of the education system. 

Gavin Williamson, who famously keeps a whip on his office desk, is reported to have warned that he ‘knows where the bodies are and [the] PM is too weak to sack him’ over the A-Level results chaos


Boris is said to favour Kemi Badenoch, his equalities minister who has been vocal in her concerns about the the woke-ification of British education. Williamson’s allies have previously claimed that Mr Johnson’s wife, Carrie, is against him

The number of teenagers getting top grades in A-Levels has risen across the board but private schools are pulling further ahead of state schools, almost doubling the number of As and A*s in the past two years since exams were postponed

It is understood the government is looking at possibly replacing the A*-E letter grades with a numerical system similar to GCSEs.

At the same time, the proportion of students allowed to achieve the top grades will be reduced gradually over a period of years until it returns to pre-pandemic levels, meaning there could be years before proper exams return.

Meanwhile, it was also revealed that medical students are to be offered £10,000 to switch schools amid a scramble for top university places.

THE RESULTS BY NUMBERS 

44.8% of subject entries were awarded either an A or A*, up from 38.5 per cent in 2020 and 25.2 per cent in 2019.

19.1% of entries received an A*, up from 14.3 per cent in 2020 and 7.8 per cent in 2019.

99.5% Overall pass rate – A* to E, slightly down from 99.7 per cent in 2020.

88.5% received a C or above, up from 88 per cent in 2020 and the highest rate since at least 2000.

70.1% of grades at private schools were A or A* – compared with 42 per cent at state-run academies.

28.1% The percentage point gap at A and A* between entries from private schools and academies, compared to 24.6 in 2020 and 20.3 in 2019.

46.9% The proportion of entries by girls which scored A or higher. It is 4.8 percentage points higher than boys (42.1 per cent). Last year, girls led boys by 3.2 percentage points (39.9 per cent girls, 36.7 per cent boys).

3.6% Rise in entrants for maths, which was taken by 97,690, from last year – making it the most popular subject this year.

35,268 Geography saw the biggest percentage jump in candidates of any subject with more than 1,000 entrants, rising by 16.8 per cent from 30,203 to 35,268.

435,430 people from the UK and overseas were accepted on to university courses, up 5 per cent on last year.

388,230 among UK applicants have been accepted, an 8 per cent rise compared with last year.

50% Drop in students from the European Union taking up courses – 9,820 compared with around 22,000 last year.

8% Increase in students accepted on to nursing courses from last year, up to 26,730.

After a record proportion of top A-level grades yesterday, many more applicants than usual met the terms of an offer to study – leaving many medical schools oversubscribed.

Now, the Medical Schools Council (MSC) and the Department for Education (DfE) are setting up a radical programme to ease the places squeeze. 

Under the scheme, students who move from an oversubscribed school to an undersubscribed one will receive £10,000 ‘for the inconvenience’.

The Government is expected to stump up most of the cash, rather than the institutions.

The move is expected to affect about a third of England’s 33 medical schools. It comes after a record number of students were accepted on to UK degree courses.

So-called ‘higher tariff’ institutions saw a 14 per cent increase in the number of places given – up from 142,720 in 2020 to 163,100.

But universities with less competition for places, which usually attract undergraduates through clearing, saw a fractional decrease in students accepting offers.

For medical courses, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) figures show that 28,690 students applied this year – a rise of 21 per cent on last year.

Yesterday, it was announced that 8,560 students from England had been accepted – up 23 per cent on results day last year.

Unlike other degrees, the number of places on medicine and dentistry courses is capped to ensure standards are maintained.

Last week the DfE announced an extra 9,000 places would be made available but many schools are still oversubscribed.

In a statement yesterday, the MSC said: ‘Medical schools are committed to maintaining high standards of education and training.

‘Currently, the sites where high-quality clinical placements are available, together with the facilities required to support medical education, are not exactly aligned with oversubscribed schools.

‘For this reason medical schools have jointly agreed to support a brokerage programme so that applicants who have met the conditions of their offers at oversubscribed medical schools will be given the opportunity to move to different medical schools.’

Universities minister Michelle Donelan said: ‘In an unprecedented year, both for students and the NHS, it is important that we as a Government look for solutions, which is why we are supporting students who choose to take up the option to move to other providers.

‘We want to make sure as many people as possible who have met their grades can take up a place this year if they want to.’

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