A-levels 2017: Drop in top grades in reformed A-level subjects

Pupils are less likely to have received top grades in the 13 new, reformed A-levels, results show.

Among 18-year-olds in England, the proportion achieving an A* or A grade in these subjects decreased from 25 per cent last year to 24.3 per cent this year, a fall of 0.7 points.

Changes to the exam system were made two years ago, meaning that pupils now sit all their exams at the end of their two-year course rather than gradually taking them over time.

Results for the reformed subjects, released today, show the proportion of pupils getting A*s declined by half a point, from 7.7 per cent to 7.2 per cent.

Caution is needed with comparing with all subjects and with non-reformed subjects

This was in the face of an overall England-wide increase in A* and As of 0.4 percentage points, up to 26.2 per cent.

But exam boards and school leaders have warned against drawing conclusions about the impact of the reforms from today’s results.

The Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents the boards, claimed the changes in results for the reformed subjects “may be influenced” by several factors, and insisted it is “not possible to draw accurate conclusions at this stage”.

These factors could include lower prior attainment among this year’s cohort, it said, in a claim backed up by some of the exam boards.

Mark Bedlow, the director of regulation at OCR, said he believed the numbers reflected the “change in prior attainment”.

Sharon Hague, a senior vice-president at Pearson, which runs the Edexcel board, said: “If you look at the reformed versus the unreformed those differences in overall outcomes we believe reflect a difference in the prior attainment, therefore the ability of those groups.

“The way in which which we have awarded those qualifications does take into account the fact that this is the first year of a brand new curriculum and a brand new set of assessments.”

Maths, one of the most popular subjects, which has the highest number of A*s, is not included in the reformed subjects.

“Although this data on reformed subjects helps explain performance in the new A-levels in England, caution is needed with comparing with all subjects and with non-reformed subjects, since the subjects reformed in the first phase are not necessarily typical of all subjects in terms of their entries and past years’ results,” added JCQ’s spokesperson.

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said it was “important” during this “period of change” that those looking at results exercise “caution when comparing this year’s data with previous years”.

“It is not a like for like comparison. The context of schools results is complex so any direct comparisons with previous years’ results are unreliable.”

The reformed subjects are: art and design, biology, business, chemistry, computer science, economics, English language, English language and literature, English literature, history, physics, psychology and sociology.



*All figures relate to England only

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