A-level results 2021: 6 key trends in England’s data

A-level results are out – here’s what we know.


1. Overall performance in England

The proportion of A* and A grades has risen again this year to 44.3 per cent. That’s up on the 38.1 per cent in last year’s teacher-assessed grades and a huge rise on the 25.2 per cent of grades in 2019, the last year of exams.

A total of 37 per cent of students got three As or above this year – more than double the 17.9 per cent in 2019 (it was 29.8 per cent in 2020).

Results are higher at grade B and above (69.8 per cent this year compared to 65.44 per cent in 2020), but are more stable at grades C to E (88.2 per cent of grades were C and above, compared to 87.5 per cent last year).

The overall pass rate has actually fallen ever so slightly, from 99.7 per cent last year to 99.5 per cent this year.

*Note: these figures are England only. Figures for UK-wide do differ slightly


2. A-level grade distribution in England: 2020 vs 2021


3. Which subjects are gaining/losing popularity?

The 10 most popular A-level subjects (in the UK) have remained the same as last year.

There was a slight change in order in the middle of the table with sociology and physics both moving up one place (to 7th and 8th respectively), while English literature dropped two places to 9th.

Maths remained the nation’s favourite subject, although saw a dip in market share from 12.1 per cent to 11.8 per cent this year.

Geography saw a resurgence in popularity, with a 16.8 per cent increase in entries this year, with law and computing also seeing big increases.

Meanwhile design and technology saw the largest drop in entries (5.8 per cent), followed by German (4.9 per cent) and English literature (4.6 per cent).

4. Which subjects have the biggest gender gap in entries?

Computing continues to have the largest gender gap with girls making up 14.7 per cent of the cohort in England (up slightly from 14.5 per cent last year).

It means the rise in girls taking the subject (up from 11.7 per cent in 2018) is starting to stall.

However, boys represent the minority in a variety of subjects such as performing and expressive arts, sociology and English literature.


5. Gender gap widens

Female candidates saw larger rises in top grades this year compared to their male counterparts.

In England, 19.7 per cent of female candidates gained an A*, compared with 14.3 per cent last year (a 5.4 percentage point rise).

Boys saw a 4.2 percentage point rise in A*s (up from 14.2 per cent in 2020 to 18.4 per cent this year).

Ofqual said females had an average of a fifth of a grade more this year than boys.


6. London see biggest jump in top grades

Two in five of all grades achieved by students in the capital were at A or above, a 7.2 percentage point rise on last year.

Analysis by exams regulator Ofqual shows it was higher than any other region, and double the increase seen in the north-east.

Every region saw a rise in top grades, but the north-east had the smallest change in the total number, up just 3.6 percentage points.

2020 grades appeals
READ: Private schools see bigger jump in top grades

The percentage point change in the number of students achieving grade C or above actually fell in the north-east, down 0.4 percentage points to 87.7 per cent.

By contrast every other region saw grade Cs or above stay flat or increase, though by smaller margins than the rises at A or above.

Ofqual said the regional changes “will partly reflect the well-established clustering of students around different parts of the grade distribution.”



Read the rest of our A-level coverage

Top grades rise to 44% in record-breaking year

6 key trends in England’s data

What’s behind the north-south divide?

Less than 1% of teacher grades changed

Private schools see bigger jump in top grades

Attainment gap widens for black and poorer pupils

The 4 things to watch out for this week

GCSE and A-level appeals 2021: Your questions answered


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