A-levels: Students braced for lower results as exam boards return to pre-pandemic grading

todayAugust 17, 2023 6

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A-levels: Students braced for lower results as exam boards return to pre-pandemic grading

The A-level results are out today, in a year where the proportion of top grades is expected to fall.

Hundreds of thousands of students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are receiving results – with ministers in England aiming to restore pre-pandemic grades.

Last year, 36.4% of UK A-level entries were awarded A or A* grades, compared to 44.8% in 2021 and 38.5% in 2020.

In 2019 – the last summer before the pandemic – just one in four (25.4%) UK A-level entries was awarded A or A* grades, with exams regulator OFQUAL saying this year’s grades will be around the same mark.

But in Wales and Northern Ireland, exam regulators have said they do not expect to return to pre-pandemic grading standards until 2024.

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Pupils could also face more competition for university places this year due to an increase in the number of 18-year-olds, along with high international demand.

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The cohort of students who are receiving their A-level results did not sit GCSE exams and were awarded teacher-assessed grades during the pandemic.

Education leaders have warned that this year’s group could face disappointment as they may have higher expectations after receiving record high GCSEs in 2021.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Their aspirations will have been raised because of the results they got at GCSE.

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“And yet what they’re going to see in most cases is that however their sister or brother did last year getting a string of top grades, that is less likely to happen this year.”


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Mr Barton added that he has heard anecdotal evidence that some teachers have predicted grades for students “more akin” to during the pandemic years despite the return to pre-COVID grading standards in England this year.

“Whereas we will always see some disappointment on results day, that disappointment might be intensified if those young people feel that actually the kind of grades they were getting through the year and on their UCAS reference from the school reflected something higher than in reality they could be getting,” he said.

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2022 A-level grades lower than previous two years but higher than pre-pandemic levels
Pre-COVID A-level grading returns in 2022

Schools Minister Nick Gibb has said exam results in England need to return to pre-pandemic levels to ensure A-levels carry “weight and credibility” with employers and universities.

But he said “additional protection” is in place this year where grade boundaries will be altered if senior examiners find national evidence of a drop in standards compared with 2019.

It comes after COVID-19 led to an increase in top A-level and GCSE grades in 2020 and 2021, with results based on teacher assessments instead of exams.

Last week, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) chief executive Clare Marchant urged students to be “quick off the mark” on A-level results day as said she believed a lot of the highly selective courses would go quickly in clearing.

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Students in England have faced some level of disruption to their schooling due to COVID-19, as well as a series of teacher strikes since February this year.

T-level results will also be received by thousands of students in England on Thursday, and youngsters across the country will be awarded their level 3 vocational and technical qualification (VTQ) exam results.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: “I’m incredibly proud of all students receiving their results today.

“I know young people will have risen to the challenge, and thousands will get the results they need to take hold of their future, whether at university, through an apprenticeship or in the world of work.”

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