A-level grades drop by record highs as exams return

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The top A-level grades in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have fallen from the records of the past two years as exam assessments have returned to pre-pandemic standards.

About 36.4% of A-level assessments have been graded between A* and A this year, according to data released Thursday by the Joint Council for Qualifications.

The level was lower than the 44.8% reached last year when teacher assessments replaced formal exams for a second consecutive year, but higher than the 25.4% in 2019.

The drop in the pass rate marked a guided return to pre-pandemic assessments of academic and professional qualifications, as the return to exams increased pressure on students to meet their university offers after two years of interrupted education. .

Annalee Macfarlane

At Portsmouth High School, an independent school for girls in the south of England, principal Jane Prescott said the atmosphere was “euphoric and celebratory”.

Chief daughter Annalee Macfarlane will start a degree apprenticeship next year with Rolls-Royce and the University of Warwick, having achieved top marks in maths, physics and chemistry.

The results also reflected persistent inequalities between the public and private education sectors. At sixth form state colleges in England, Ofqual data showed 31.9% of grades were A or above, while the proportion of top grades at private schools was 58%.

Meanwhile, college admissions showed a near-record number of students winning places at their favorite universities on Thursday, according to data released by UCAS, the admissions service for universities and colleges.

Kath Thomas, acting chief executive of JCQ, said the figures were an “important milestone” in Britain’s recovery from the Covid crisis. “As expected, these results are higher than the last set of summer exams in 2019, but lower than the marks assessed by teachers last year,” she said.

In recognition of record grade inflation last year and to compensate for the disruption to learning during successive closures, students were provided with support materials such as pre-subject information or equation sheets during Exams.

Geneviève Boateng with a friend Kirsti Jones

Genevieve Boateng, left, with friend Kirsti Jones © Toby Melville/Reuters

At Harris City Academy Crystal Palace in London, Genevieve Boateng received an offer from Manchester to study medicine, while her friend Kirsti Jones will study veterinary medicine at Cambridge University. “I think it was the most stressful thing I’ve done in my life, it was really competitive,” she said.

Ofqual, the exams regulator in England, announced in September that it would set grade distributions at a “midpoint” between those of last year and pre-pandemic levels.

However, the results showed that the proportion of top marks awarded this year was slightly closer to the records of the past two years than in 2019.

The number of best grades awarded fell more steeply in private schools than in any other type of school, suggesting that teachers in private schools gave more generous grades when exams were canceled compared to the public sector .

The proportion of top grades awarded in private schools fell 12 percentage points from 70% last year, while in sixth form colleges it fell about 3 percentage points from 35.3 %.

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Sir Peter Lampl, founder of education equality charity The Sutton Trust, said universities had ‘rightly’ prioritized widening participation over the course of a year competitive.

“However, the gap is even wider than it was before the pandemic,” he said. “The government must work to ensure that students from all walks of life, in all parts of the country, have the opportunity to succeed.

The results also highlighted the worsening of regional disparities. This year, 39% of grades in London were A and A*, compared to 30.8% in the North East. Since 2019, the proportion of top grades received has increased by 12 percentage points in London, compared to just eight in the North East.

Pupils taking BTECs, vocational qualifications which are taken at college or school, also received their results on Thursday, as did those taking the government’s new T-level exams for the first time, which focus on professional skills.

Andrew Ormroyd and Joseph Scott, pictured holding their exam results

Andrew Ormroyd, left, and Joseph Scott © Chris Booth

At Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College in Darlington, northeast England, Joseph Scott had predicted three A*s, but didn’t get an offer from his preferred academic choices, which he said was a “kick in the teeth”.

But he used the compensation to secure a place at Northumbria University to study business management after earning top marks in business, law and geography. His friend Andrew Ormroyd will study mathematics at the University of St Andrews.

Department for Education figures showed 1,029 T-level students received their results today, with 92 per cent achieving a passing grade and 34.6 per cent an honors or higher.

However, the government’s T-Level 2021 action plan indicated that 1,300 students had started T-Levels by October 2020, suggesting that more than a fifth had dropped out before completing. The DfE declined to comment.

Jennifer Coupland, chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, said the “pioneering” T-Levels students had taken a “leap of faith” in undertaking the qualifications. “We are confident [T-Levels] will soon share the same equal platform as A-tiers,” she added.

UCAS said 19% of over-18s were accepted into their choice of business or college insurance compared to 2019.

The offer rate reflects a more cautious approach by universities, many of which have made fewer offers in a bid to stabilize student numbers after two years of record admissions.

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Claire Marchant, chief executive of UCAS, said this has led to a more “accurate” admissions cycle, with many students and universities making decisions about where to go before results day.

However, she added that while many were celebrating, some students would be disappointed. Figures from UCAS showed 20,360 students found they had no place in higher education on Thursday, up from 24,360 in 2019.

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Marchant advised this group to “enjoy” the clearing, which will take place in the coming days.

“This year has seen a growth in the number of 18-year-olds in the population, which will continue for the rest of the decade, and creates a more competitive environment for students in the years to come,” she said. .

Additional reporting by Ella Hollowood.

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