RHS Virtual Workshop on the impact of the Covid Crisis on BME Student Admissions in Higher Education. 18 June 2020, 2-4pm.

This workshop, hosted virtually via Zoom, asks us to consider whether using predicted grades will re-inscribe race inequalities in History undergraduate admissions in 2020 and encourages pro-active strategies to reduce the likelihood that this will be the case. 


Event Description

This Zoom discussion, hosted by the Royal Historical Society (RHS) will focus on predicted grades, university admissions and BME students, using History as an exemplar case. Following the government decision to cancel summer examinations, this year’s GCSE and A-Level grades will be predicted by teachers and normalised by a nationally applied formula via exam boards. This has prompted debates around fears of existing structural disadvantages operating within schools and universities further discriminating against BME and under-privileged students. This event considers how the problem of structural bias in our schools and universities may negatively affect BME students in particular and potential means to mitigate these negative impacts. We invite you to join in this discussion with us.

The RHS ‘Race, Ethnicity & Equality in UK History: A Report and Resource for Change’ (2018) examined in detail the already ‘leaky pipeline’ in History; from Undergraduate to Postgraduate study of History as well as from GSCE to A-Level study of History and consequently onto university (see p. 26, 30-40) and Covid-19 could worsen the ‘leaky pipeline’ all round.

Outcomes could include targeted interventions designed to enhance the equity of August 2020 admissions decisions and/or publicity to draw wider attention to these issues and their potential impact beyond summer 2020.


Joining the Meeting

The meeting will be hosted using the Zoom online conferencing platform. If you are unfamiliar with Zoom, the RHS has put together some information about how to get the most out of the meeting, which you can download here.

This is an invitation-only workshop. You should have received the meeting link and password by email shortly before the event. If you do not have the details, please contact Dr Shahmima Akhtar by email: pastandpresentfellow@royalhistsoc.org .


Meeting Recording

We will be recording this meeting only for the purposes of writing a report to sum up the discussion. This file will be stored on a local computer and deleted as soon as the report is finalised. Please let the organiser know in advance if you are not comfortable with the meeting being recorded.


  1. Aksana Khan (Events Lead, Museum Detox)
  2. Professor Bridget Byrne (Director, Centre for Dynamics of Ethnicity, University of Manchester)
  3. Cari Tuhey (Transition and Welfare Tutor, University College London)
  4. Dr Catherine Souch (Head of Research and Higher Education, Royal Geographic Society)
  5. Dr Chris Jeppesen (Research Associate on Education and Social Change, University of Cambridge)
  6. Professor Claire Alexander (Associate Director, Centre for Dynamics of Ethnicity, University of Manchester)
  7. Dennis Sherwood (Independent Consultant)
  8. Eoin Macgabhann (Head of Curriculum, AQA History)
  9. Dr. Emily Manktelow (Senior Lecturer in Colonial and Global History, Royal Holloway, University of London)
  10. Dr Grant Bage (Research Fellow in Research Rich and Informed Teaching, University of Hertfordshire)
  11. Dr Hana Qugana (Lecturer in Empire, Ethnogenesis and Education, NYU London)
  12. Helen Hayes MP (Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood)
  13. Helena Pozniak (Independent Journalist, The Guardian and The Telegraph)
  14. Imogen Evans (Administrative Secretary, Royal Historical Society)
  15. Professor Jo Fox (Director, Institute of Historical Research & Acting Dean of the School of Advanced Study)
  16. Dr Jonathan Saha (Associate Professor in History, Leeds University & Co-chair of the RHS Race, Ethnicity and Equality Working Group)
  17. Dr Jason Todd (Lecturer in Education, Linacre College, University of Oxford)
  18. Dr Karis Campion (Research Associate, Centre for Dynamics of Ethnicity, University of Manchester)
  19. Kate Smee (Teacher & on Secondary Committee of the Historical Association )
  20. Dr Kennetta Perry (Director, Stephen Lawrence Research Centre & Reader in History, De Montfort University)
  21. Dr Katherine Foxhall (Research and Communications Officer, Royal Historical Society)
  22. Professor Margot Finn (Professor of Modern British History, University College London & President of the Royal Historical Society)
  23. Mark Corver (Founder of dataHE and the former director of analysis and research at UCAS)
  24. Naomi Kellman (Senior Manager for Schools and Universities at Rare Recruitment & founder of Target Oxbridge)
  25. Nick Dennis (Teacher, Independent School in Hertfordshire & Director of Studies)
  26. Dr Peter d’Sena (Learning and Teaching Specialist, University of Hertfordshire & Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research)
  27. Dr Rob Waters (Lecturer in Modern British History, Queen Mary University)
  28. Sharon Walker (PhD student in Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge on Qualitative Social Research, Social Policy, Sociological Theory and theories of Race and Racism)
  29. Siobhan Dickens (PhD Student in Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge on teacher professional learning and curriculum change, particularly in History Education)
  30. Sundeep Lidher (PhD Candidate in Faculty of History, University of Cambridge on British citizenship and immigration policy, 1945- 1962 & Co-lead, Our Migration Story, The Runnymede Trust)


Event Programme

1. Introduction

Dr Shahmima Akhtar is Past and Present Fellow working with the Royal Historical Society on its Race, Ethnicity and Equality Initiative and will be starting as a Lecturer in Histories of Multi-Ethnic Britain at Royal Holloway, University of London from autumn. Dr Hannah Elias, is Lecturer in Black British History at Goldsmiths University and has worked with the Institute of Historical Research on its Inclusive Histories strategy.

2. Panel Discussion (50 mins)
  • Professor Claire Alexander, Professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester will offer us an overview of the recently published State of the Nation Report.
  • Nick Dennis, history teacher and Director of Studies will give us an on the ground perspective on how schools and its staff are responding to these government guidelines amid the covid crisis.
  • Mark Corver, founder of dataHE and previously Director of Analysis and Research at UCAS will reflect on what the data shows about how predicted and exam awarded grades work in university admissions and what the equality implications are.
  • Dennis Sherwood, independent consultant who runs the Silver Bullet Machine Manufacturing Company Limited (Intelligent Innovation Consultancy) will reflect on the programme of predicted grades in the context of the already existing inequalities within our secondary schools.
  • Dr Peter D’Sena, Learning and Teaching Specialist at the University of Hertfordshire and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research will speak about his work on decolonising the curriculum and the impact the current crisis may have on such an agenda.
3. Structured Q&A (40 mins)

Qu 1. How do we make existing data on BME inequalities impactful during the covid crisis?

Qu 2. How can we mitigate against the very exceptional circumstances of covid? For instance, given what we know about variations in the availability of safe quiet spaces in some households, caring responsibilities and family support.

Qu 3. What can we do in the immediate term?
Thinking about UCU and Runnymede’s call for contextualised admissions (consider pupils’ socio-economic backgrounds and contextualised admissions criteria so that poorer pupils would not be disadvantaged when applying to more elite universities).
Reflecting on the suggestion that the Office for Students facilitate accountability by monitoring and reporting on “offers made on the back of school predictions by ethnic and gender group to check for any bias at the point of admissions” as per the letter sent to Gavin Williamson.

4. Future work/ Outputs (20 mins):

Going forward we want to build on the momentum of this event and drive change at the level of the political, the public and the university. We will discuss a possible range of outputs and actions we could take as a group or individuals which could include:

  • Follow up with a supplement to the open letter (April 2020) signed by 21 education and equality academics and experts sent to  education secretary Gavin Williamson highlighting concern that students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, especially higher-attaining students, were more likely to have their final grades under-predicted in comparison with their more advantaged peers drawing on key data and examples.
  • A short one-page explainer/ set of recommendations that can be circulated to admissions staff within universities outlining the equalities issues we have discussed and how it relates to the current covid crisis.


5. Close Meeting


Relevant Publications

David Gillborn, ‘Racism as Policy: A Critical Race Analysis of Education Reforms in the United States and England’, The Educational Forum, Vol 78: 1 (2014), pp. 26-41.

Dennis Sherwood, an independent consultant has written several pieces for the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).

Department for Education’s website, reflects on equalities questions: “How will you address the fact that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to have their grades under-predicted?”

‘Ethnicity, Race and Inequality in the UK: State of the Nation’ Report by Runnymede, Ethnicity UK, Policy Press’ (April 2020).

‘Follow-up letter: Predicted grades & BME students’, Runnymede Trust, 29 April 2020.

Gill Wyness, ‘RULES OF THE GAME: Disadvantaged Students and the University Admissions Process’ (Dec 2017), which looks at the UCAS form, predicted grades system and personal statements.

Karis Campion, ‘Universities must not forget about BAME students during this crisis’, Wonkhe (May 2020).

Mark Corver, ‘We can make admissions work without A levels’, Wonkhe (April 2020).

‘Predicted grades could unfairly ‘predict futures’ of students, report warns’, ITV News, 17 June 2020.

‘Predicted Grades: Accuracy and Impact. A Report for University and College Union’ (Dec 2016), shows that high-achieving, disadvantaged students are more likely to have their grades under-predicted than their wealthier peers.

RHS ‘Race, Ethnicity & Equality in UK History: A Report and Resource for Change’ examined in detail the already ‘leaky pipeline’ in History (October 2018).

The Letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson by Runnymede Trust and signed by 21 education and equality academics and experts (April 2020) to ensure that GCSE and A-level grades based on teacher assessment are not biased against pupils from disadvantaged or ethnic minority backgrounds.