In a letter to England’s education secretary Gavin Williamson, BMA medical student committee co-chairs Gurdas Singh and Chris Smith and medical academic staff committee co-chairs Peter Dangerfield and David Strain warn that despite changes to A-level grading arrangements, students with places to study medicine could still be disadvantaged.
Ministers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland announced on Monday that teacher assessments on grades would be accepted rather than moderated grades intended to ensure that results were in line with previous years. The Scottish Government took a similar step last week.
Most places to study medicine had already been allocated on the basis of last week’s awards, they warn.
‘The BMA’s view is that, despite this, all students – those that received acceptances last week, and those whose grades have now been reinstated – should now have their offers honoured.
'In particular, we feel that there is an obligation to make sure that students from low-income backgrounds do not suffer in any way if medical schools are not resourced to cover all of the offers.
'These additional places must be supported appropriately without causing adverse impact on existing students and on the welfare of university staff.
‘It is likely,’ they add, ‘that medical schools will be over-subscribed, with negative consequences for the students themselves, and for the academic staff who teach them.
'There are also practical limits to the numbers of students who can be accommodated in labs and on clinical placements, and who can be taught by existing members of staff – at a time when universities are in financial crisis with some already calling for voluntary redundancies and pay cuts.
‘We therefore urge you to ensure that additional resourcing is provided to medical schools to accommodate the additional students and maintain and enhance staff numbers,’ they write.
The BMA also warns that attempts to mitigate the effect by promoting deferred places and giving universities more time to plan must not discriminate against students from lower income households, who may have restricted opportunities for ‘gap years’ and require resources to support them. It would also be unfair to restrict numbers of available places for next year’s A-level students.
The BMA welcomes the announcement of a new taskforce led by universities minister Michelle Donelan to help ensure students can progress to the next stage of their education, and has offered to be part of any group seeking solutions on the particular challenges facing medical education. These include the fact that medical courses take longer and rely on interaction with other organisations including NHS bodies.
The BMA had written to Ofqual and the office for students earlier this year to seek assurances that no student should be disadvantaged by the A-levels grade processes this year.
‘It is,’ they write, ‘regrettable’ that its concerns have been vindicated and that the process proved more discriminatory against high-performing students from low-income backgrounds than feared.
‘There are clear benefits of improving diversity in medical education and in the medical workforce – it allows for doctors to be more understanding and representative of the populations they serve and thereby helps to ensure better engagement with health services. This is an objective to which members of the BMA from across the profession have devoted much time and effort.
‘Students with the capability, ambition and commitment to study medicine must have an equal opportunity to do so. We urgently call on you to take action to ensure this’, says the letter.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Wednesday, England’s health secretary Matt Hancock said he was ‘absolutely’ looking at the issue of whether to raise the cap on medical school numbers. He was responding to a call from Universities UK.