Has the proportion of students getting grades C or above in A-levels fallen?

  • img Harvey Cawdron
  • POSTED ON 16 Aug 2018


In England, the proportion of students getting grades C or above in A-levels has fallen back this year, driven by a did performance among girls, as schools and students continue to attempt to deal with the introduction of new, more intensive exams. 

These changes led to a fall in overall UK pass rates, as results in England differed from improved performances in Wales and Northern Ireland. Over half a million students across the 3 nations were receiving their results today.  

Last year, when less of the new, reformed exams had been taken, 79% of girls in England achieved grades C or above but this year that proportion declined to 78.4%, while the proportion of boys achieving C or above fell by the lesser amount of  0.3% to just under 75%.

But, at the highest grade, the gap between boys and girls in England receiving an A or an A* decreased from 0.7% to 0.4%. 

In England, boys continued to achieve more A and A* grades than girls, as 26.6% of boys sitting exams received a grade A or higher. compared to 26.2% for girls. But the gap shrank, as the number of boys who received an A* fell 8.9% to 8.5%, whilst the percentage of girls changed little at 7.6%. 

There was an increase in those achieving A and A* grades, increasing to 26.4%, the highest proportion for 6 years.

Many students will take up university places after being awarded these results, but the Ucas admissions clearing house suggest that the amount accepted onto UK degree courses has fallen this year. Thus far, 411,860 are taking up places, which Ucas say is 2 percentage points less than it was at the same time last year. 

A Department for Education spokeswoman said 'We reformed A-levels after universities told us they were failing to prepare students for higher education. Reducing the number of exams students have to sit will give them more time for study and to gain a deeper understanding of the courses they are studying, an essential skill for undergraduate study.' 

In Wales, exams were not subject to changes, and the situation was very different. For the second consecutive year Welsh students enjoyed better than expected results, with the proportion achieving A*-C grades exceeding 76%, the best results since 2009. The proportion awarded an A or above also increased, from 25% to 26.3%, with better performances from both boys and girls. 

The alterations in England have removed modular AS-levels which were examined after the first year of the course. The new A-levels do not have coursework in most cases, and thus rely entirely on final exam marks to determine grades. 

The reforms, which started under Michael Gove, has led to a reduction in the number of candidates taking AS-levels. This year, there were more than 50% fewer entries for the 1 year AS-levels in England, while numbers in Wales and Northern Ireland remained the same. 

The figures displayed a continuation in the increase of the amount of students taking science and maths subjects, so that over a third of all entries were in the Stem subjects. Maths is still the most popular single A-level subject, but it saw a decrease in the number of students that achieved an A*, down 2 percentage points to 15.9%. 

The modern languages continued their downward trend, with a decrease of almost 8% in entries into Spanish, German and French. A significant cultural shift was displayed in the languages, with the number studying Mandarin increasing by nearly 9% to 3,334, overtaking German as the third most popular language taken by British students. The number sitting German decreased by 16% to around 3,000. 

The amount of students studying computing in the UK went increased 23.9% when compared to 2017, with 10,286 students taking the subject. Although males make up 4 of the 5 entrants to the subject, girls achieved higher marks. Overall, 20.1% of girls achieved an A* or an A in computing, compared to 17.9% of boys. 

At the same time, university admissions offices were preparing for lots of inquiries and applications, as over 600,000 students applied through the Ucas process this year.

Due to rapid expansion and a slight decrease in the number of applicants, many courses still have places available. The Press Association said that over 26,000 places were on offer through clearing in English universities alone, including ones at Russell Group universities. 

Clare Marchant, the chief executive of Ucas said 'If you decide to look for courses in clearing, there are fewer 18-year-olds in the UK’s population, so there’s never been a better time to search for opportunities'. 

The increase in the number of unconditional offers handed out by universities this year has attracted controversy, with more than 1 in 5 sixth-form students receiving such an offer, which guarantees their place regardless of their A-level results. Some school leaders fear that such offers increase chances of underperformance, as pupils may not be as motivated to achieve the highest grades.