A-level results day 2022: Fall in grades as students feel university squeeze

Students received lower A-level grades this year compared to the past two years when exams were not held due to the Covid-19 pandemic, official figures showed today.

Hundreds of thousands of pupils across England, Wales and Northern Ireland received their results on Thursday. Despite the fall in top marks the results remain higher than pre-pandemic levels. Students in the UAE who sat A-levels were also given their results on Thursday, after several schools on Wednesday posted a 100 per cent pass rate.

Grades had been expected to drop back from 2021 levels – when pupils were assessed by their teachers – as part of a transition year which saw marks aiming to reflect a midway point between last year and 2019.

The number of students accepted on to UK degree courses has fallen by 2 per cent this year, new figures show.

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) said the overall pass rate – the proportion of entries graded A* to E – fell by 1.1 percentage points from 99.5 per cent in 2021 to 98.4 per cent this year.

But this is up by 0.8 points from 97.6 per cent in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

Entries receiving the top grades of A* and A are down 8.4 points from 44.8 per cent last year to 36.4 per cent – but up 11.0 points on 25.4 per cent in 2019.

a-level results day 2022: fall in grades as students feel university squeeze

Students celebrate with their A-level results at Norwich School, Norwich. PA

The figure for the highest grade, A*, is down year-on-year from 19.1 per cent to 14.6 per cent, but remains higher than in 2019 when it stood at 7.7 per cent.

And the proportion of entries graded A* to C dropped from 88.5 per cent in 2021 to 82.6 per cent this year, though it is up from 75.9 per cent in 2019.

The JCQ said there were a total of 848,910 A-level entries, up year-on-year by 2.9 per cent, compared with an increase of 2.4 per cent in the 18-year-old population.

Girls continued to outperform boys overall, with A* to E grades at 98.7 per cent for the former, compared with 98.1 per cent for the latter.

The number of A-level students in England who took three A-levels and achieved all A* grades is nearly three times what it was in 2019, rising to 8,570 compared with 2,785.

Kath Thomas, interim chief executive of the JCQ, said the results “represent a huge milestone” in the country’s recovery from the pandemic.

Congratulating students, she said: “Not only is it the culmination of two years of hard work, but these students are the first to have taken formal summer exams in three years, so we should all celebrate this achievement.

“Exams are the fairest way to assess students, as they give everyone the chance to show what they know.

“Today’s results therefore represent a huge milestone in our recovery from the pandemic and are testament to the diligence and resilience of young people and school staff across the country.

“As intended, these results are higher than the last set of summer exams in 2019, but lower than last year’s teacher-assessed grades.

“This reflects the special arrangements that were put in place to support students, schools and colleges through another challenging year due to Covid.”

Dr Jo Saxton, chief regulator of Ofqual, the exams regulator in England, said: “I felt strongly that it would not have been right to go straight back to pre-pandemic grading in one go but accept that we do need to continue to take steps back to normality.

“These results overall, coming as they do broadly midway between 2021 and 2019, represent a staging post on that journey.”

Pupils in Scotland received the results of their Higher examinations last week, with a similar trend in that the pass rate was down on last year but above pre-pandemic levels from 2019.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) said a total of 425,830 people have had places confirmed, a drop compared to last year when a record 435,430 people, from the UK and overseas, had places confirmed.

But despite the decrease, this year’s figure is the second highest on record, and up 16,870 compared with 2019 when exams were last held.

Ucas said there was a 19 per cent increase in 18-year-olds in the UK achieving a place at either their first or insurance choice of uni this year, compared with 2019.

The number of students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds to gain places on courses is 6,850 this year, up by 3,770 in 2019.

The admissions service said this translates to a narrowing of the gap between the most and least advantaged, with the ratio at 2.36 in 2019, 2.29 this year, and 2.34 in 2021.

Katie Normington, chancellor of De Montfort University, said staff have seen a rise in the number of applications from students living locally.

She told Sky News the uni is “five or six times busier than we were last year” with students looking for places.

“Some interesting patterns really are local students are up, so about three more percentage points of students who have got a Leicester postcode and coming to us,” she said. “So a sort of shift to people wanting to perhaps stay a bit closer to home. That will be to do with the economics of it and wanting to live at home while they study.”

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