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Jury’s out over A level relevance

Divide among IT graduate recruiters on fairness and effectiveness of A levels.

Divide among IT graduate recruiters on fairness and effectiveness of A levels. IT graduate recruiters are at odds as to whether A levels help or hinder effective selection, according to a recent survey by TARGETjobs IT.

Many employers and academics in Higher Education are also concerned that graduate recruiters who set too much store by A level results might discriminate against students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The ‘for’ camp
65 percent of companies analysed set A level/UCAS points criteria for most roles. These recruiters tend to regard A levels as one measure of strong academic ability, which they use in conjunction with degree classification. One even argues that they are a more accurate way of comparing graduates’ abilities than degree result, offering a common standard that compares favourably against the variation in grading from university to university.

The ‘against’ camp
35 percent of recruiters felt that A level results were a less reliable guide upon which to base decisions about hiring graduates. Their reasons included:
Sixth–formers often being ‘coached to the extreme by teachers’, making their grades unreflective of their abilities
The need to focus on students’ most current abilities
University grades being a better indicator of students’ ability to work autonomously.

Diversity concerns – excluding single parents?
Leading academics expressed concern that UCAS point cut-offs disproportionally affect students from non-traditional backgrounds, and cut against their strategies of widening participation. Course directors and admissions tutors flagged up their access courses, foundation degrees or lower entrance offers for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and voiced annoyance that those who went on to thrive academically could be blocked from employment by their school results.

Richard Pettinger, course director and admissions tutor at UCL for the undergraduate information management for business programme, summarised: ‘The problem comes when we have students who apply through non-standard routes (eg access courses, foundation courses) and then we do sometimes have to lobby to get them considered. Many employers who have BBB minimum A level requirements do not understand why they have them – it is simply company policy, and some are more open to being convinced than others.’

Dr Kathy Romer, careers tutor for the physics department at the University of Sussex, spelled out the impact on diversity, explaining: ‘In particular this impacts parents, especially single mums.’ She added: ‘We teach a foundation year and we have people with low UCAS scores (often from no fault of their own) ending up with top first class degrees.’ 

Liz Adams, editor of TARGETjobs IT, comments: ‘All IT graduate recruiters want the most accurate measures of candidates’ abilities, but opinions are sharply divided as to whether A level grades are one of these. Some feel that they are a better common standard than degree classification, while others argue the opposite, believing them to be more susceptible to outside influences such as teaching quality. There’s particular concern among academics that their use in graduate recruitment adversely affects social mobility: students with top degrees who entered university through non-traditional routes, such as single mums, may not have the school results to match. With diversity – particularly gender balance – a perennial issue for technology sector recruiters, it’s vital that they do not inadvertently screen out promising candidates.’


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