UK & World News
A-Level Results: Fall In 'A' Grades Awarded
The number of A-level students awarded A grades or higher has fallen for the first time in more than 20 years - but the overall pass rate has gone up.
A total of 26.6% of grades received by students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland this year were A or A*, down on 27% in 2011.
But the cumulative percentage of grades from A* to E - which constitutes a pass - increased slightly from 97.8% to 98%.
And for the first time since the A* grade was introduced in 2010, boys outperformed girls in achieving the top grade, by 8% compared to 7.9%. The overall number of A* grades fell from 8.2 to 7.9%.
It comes after, in an attempt to tackle grade inflation, regulator Ofqual told exam boards this year they would be asked to justify results that differ wildly from previous years.
This year's students will also be the first to face higher tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year.
Chief executive of the largest of England's three exam boards, the AQA, Andrew Hall told Sky News he did not believe the fall in the A grade percentage was the result of efforts to tackle grade inflation.
"What you've got is some very interesting things happening this year," he said.
He said the profile of A-level students had changed as more had stayed on in education after recognising the qualifications' importance and related employment opportunities.
He added: "I'm very, very clear in my own mind that the grades have been awarded by AQA, and I'm sure the other boards, in exactly the same way we've always done it. I personally do it in AQA, so I absolutely know that."
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, told Sky News that the "narrative" had changed for examiners this year.
"I think the subjective view for examiners had previously been that results should be like the previous year, but a little bit better," he said.
"This year we have had the new watchdog, Ofqual, which has said it believes there has been an inflationary element and that examining boards will have to account for any major deviation in results, upwards or downwards.
"The Government has also been saying, 'These A-level results are not quite believable.' So overall, the message going out to examiners has been, 'be tough.'"
He added that the trebling in the number of A grades awarded over the last three decades had made it difficult for universities to distinguish between top students.
Among those receiving A-level results was British Olympic bronze medallist, diver Tom Daley.
He tweeted: "I got an A in Spanish! Overall I have A* photography (A2), A spanish (A2) and A maths(AS) :) thanks 2 @PlymouthColleg1 :D."
Many of the hundreds of thousands of students receiving their exam results will be hoping to make the grade to secure a place at their university of choice.
A total of 357,915 students had been accepted onto university courses before receiving their results this year, down almost 7% on 2011, UCAS figures show. The total number of applicants was down from 681,593 in 2011 to 629,140 this year.
However, changes to the admissions process means universities will be able to admit as many students as they like who achieve the top grades of two As and a B, or higher.
It means they will be able to offer last-minute places to those who do better than expected and meet this threshold.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "When you are talking about those sorts of high grades, A and two Bs, people scoring those sorts of grades - for those to be disheartened would be a tragedy and we must do everything we can to enable them to get their place.
"My advice to students would be don't give up, to look at the options that are open, and there are still plenty of opportunities out there."
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what do you think?
Exam boards are told they would be asked to justify wildly differing results and for the first time in 20 years the number of A grades falls. Strange that. Ask employers if the quality of job applicants matches the rosy picture our education industry paints and you may get a shock. Overmarking & lower standards to ensure no one fails is cheating our young people and does them no favours
Agreed in part - though my A* student this morning thoroughly deserved her grade and the others too reflected effort and ability - all very fair, I thought, and spot-on with my predictions. It's "subjects" like Key Skills (!) and Communication within Baccalaureate qualifications that need watching - students are stuffed through these (usually involuntarily) and these results ARE inflated. The shock to an employer or college is then huge - someone with Level 3 in Communication will quite often be unable to hold a conversation or write a letter! That is indeed tricking the kids. But it isn't the case with traditional subjects - we are still busting a gut with those.
Movvi. Thanks for that it makes interesting reading. That some of our kids are leaving school unable to hold a conversatiom or write a letter is depressing in the extreme and confirms that our education system is failing many of them
Perhaps THIS year they have been asked to spell their names correctly
Have you SEEN an AS or A2 paper? I wouldn't fancy my chances again now!
What a stupid comment. This is A level, these are smart kids.
Perhaps Peter has a chip on his shoulder. Perhaps Peter wasn't bright enough to A levels, or perhaps, if Peter did, he thinks that his A levels were superior than those of others.
Perhaps Peter couldn't sell his name without a spell checker
What like spelling peter without using an upper case P you mean?
We have a blind obsession in this country that you must get A levels then go to uni. The myth is that not all degrees are of equal standing and universities have become a mass production industry the passport is an A level. Dave Harrison is right standards are falling but then schools can not afford failures because of the score board. Of course if we play the statistics game the longer kids are in education then they do not appear on the unemployment stats and in some areas the kids need to stay in so called higher education before they are of age to claim benefits.
I can see your points - though I don't know where the stats come from! About 60% of our Year 11 usually leave formal education before Years 12 and 13, so most don't intend to go to uni. At our school, standards are not falling and we expect more and more from our students every year. A levels have always been a stepping stone to uni - why else study an academic subject to A level if not to study it further?
The standards have fallen but the demands are for diversity thus you are expected to have a basket of A level subjects but no real in depth understanding hence the pressure. I also understand that the subjects taken are deemed soft options in art and social sciences. There is regional divergence. We are feeding a great machine but letting down the youngsters. Wish I had done plumbing rather than my degrees.
Do it! My husband went to uni but just retrained as a sparky - far more sensible!
I only wish more of our young people did decide to get a trade rather than go to Uni and take Travel & Tourism. Problem is the emphasis is all on going to Uni and those kids becoming plumbers, brickies or sparkys are seen as less qualified
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It is soul destroying that, after years of hard graft, our students face devaluing comments every year about standards falling and A levels meaning little now. It's so frustrating! All our results were consistent with effort and ability, as ever. There's no shame in seeing an improvement in results year on year either - there are more and more vocational qualifications, removing some unsuited to A level from the academic courses to then suceed in those more suited. The result is that more students studying for A levels now are doing so seriously, with a view to using them well. Some people commenting here have no idea of how hard our kids are working.
It has been decreed that there must be no discrimination in education all must pass even the thickos the problem is its not easy to tell the difference as to who is who.
Well said movvi. Exam results are used as a political football, and often criticised by those who do not have the intelligence to pass them. And Russell is also correct. In 1987 Maggie introduced an exam that she claimed everyone who took it could pass. Now wasn't that silly of her - or so Michael Gove thinks, as he would like to reverse all the changes in exams that his party introduced in the first place.
I'm not really with you, Russell - with respect, of course! Try as I might, some things just go over my head. When I run a department which tracks progress and strengths as well as weaknesses, I'm unsure who it is that doesn't know the difference in students. Probably those not doing their jobs properly! Cheers dave!
Roy E Millington
perhaps they should have been studying instead of protesting and rioting
What a completely stupid comment. Who do you mean by 'they'? Perhaps if you had continued a little further in your own education you might have got as far as capital letters and full stops.
None of my students have ever rioted or protested. What a bizarre generalisation!
Good, now we can stop all the "it's getting too easy" discussions.
Exam boards told to be tough in marking, A* numbers go down. Well stone me! Who'd of thought it!!.......
A 98% pass rate seems to me the only ones that fail are the ones who can't spell their names at the top of the paper
How did you get on in yours?
No. A levels are not compulsory; those studying for them have CHOSEN to do them. Those not expected to pass them wouldn't be doing them - there are vocational courses and other options for them. So, really, if students are capable of studying for A levels and invest 2 years studying for them, they really should all pass!