Editor Laura McInerney explains how we are going to report Thursday’s A-level results
For the past two A-level results days we focused our attention on secondary modern schools. We did this because readers told us they were sick of newspapers focusing on pupils who get all A*s, and given the last 12 months of grammar-fussing by the Conservatives, Schools Week couldn’t think of a school type more in need of a boon. So we are sticking with our approach.
On Thursday we will be live-blogging the stories of students who, for whatever reason, did not attend their local grammar school, yet have gone on to achieve brilliant things in their local secondary modern. This is not without controversy: some people argue our celebration means we are “condoning” a grammar school system. But, as I’ve said before, it is unfair to ignore the successes of secondary moderns simply because it’s politically a bit inconvenient. The kids in those schools deserve attention as much, if not more, than anyone else, so we are sticking to it.
Our live blog will reveal the diverse stories of pupils turned down by one particular school at 11, who went on and succeeded at another (thereby showing the 11-plus was pointless in the first place).
Results and analysis of A-Levels 2017: Important things to watch
This year we get the results for the first 13 reformed A-levels, covering most of the major subjects bar maths and geography.
For this year’s cohort, the AS exams were optional and do not count towards the final grade. It is an untested system.
So what will we be watching for on Thursday?
Individual schools are likely to see considerable variation in the results for reformed subjects
The proportion of students getting each grade shouldn’t fluctuate too much in comparison with last year, according to the exams watchdog Ofqual. But classes who didn’t take the AS, and are therefore the first to take these new exams with their teacher, are guinea pigs. It has been difficult for A-level teachers to gauge whether what they thought was needed has been correct or not, given there have been no exams in the first year of the course to help guide their judgment. Because of this, schools may see pupils in some subjects doing unexpectedly badly – or much better than feared – when the final results actually appear.
How did pupils who took AS levels fare versus those who did not?
It isn’t necessarily going to be clear on the day, but a key question is whether the pupils who took AS-levels had any advantage when it comes to the full A-level. If the group that did AS-levels are shown to have received better grades, it will suggest a benefit to AS exams, which would be quite awkward for the government. They want to wean people off first year exams.
Girls vs boys
Always a staple of the media because it makes for easy headlines, eyes are on the gender gap this year as the reformed A-levels have fewer coursework marks and more points for exams. Historically, boys have fared better at exams, so there is speculation they could win an even bigger share of the top grades than in the past, perhaps even in subjects other than maths.
Watch university admissions grades – they may not be as strict as you expect
Much has been made in the media over the past few weeks about the number of places in universities dropping for British students over the past decade, as with this story. However, this neglects to mention there are far fewer 18-year-olds than now.
There are around 14,000 fewer A-level students this year simply due to demographics.
Around 200,000 UK students start at British universities each year. Those numbers tend not to go down. Universities need to take them, or even more, in order to make their budgets work.
Given this, even if some students are hard hit by a shift in their grades, it’s possible they will be able to keep their university place. If they are amongst those students that do unexpectedly well, it’s worth seeing if they can trade upwards using UCAS adjustment, which can help people get a place on a course with higher acceptance grades.
Things we can’t tell on A-level results day
What A-level reforms mean for headline measures
This all comes much letter in the game. On results day, all that is released is the national picture. There will be time for counting when the university placing is done.
Whether universities are finally satisfied
The main reason the exams were purportedly changed in the first place was because universities had asked for the changes. They felt students were not being adequately prepared for university life. At the time they said they wanted students to be better at essay-writing and independent study, and they wanted rid of AS-levels – except for Cambridge, which was quite clear that this was NOT what it wanted.
It has never been immediately obvious why getting rid of first-year exams would improve either issue, but here’s hoping universities will now be satisfied with the students who arrive in September. We shall all look forward to the sounds of no lecturers ever moaning again.