Boys’ A-level performance set to rise this year, predicts academic

This year’s A-level results are expected to show a surge in performance among boys, despite a fall in top grades overall due to changes in the way the exams are sat.

Previous trends indicate that boys could “improve their position relative to girls” this year, according to Alan Smithers from the University of Buckingham’s Centre for Education and Employment.

The results released next Thursday will be the first since the A-levels in 13 subjects were reformed. The changes remove AS-levels, and pupils sit all their exams in one go at the end of a two-year course, in the way the system worked until 2002, albeit with new A* grades at the top end.

Smithers’ analysis of trends in results up to last year indicates that the pass-rate will remain at around 98 per cent, but that top grades will fall.

However, he says, boys could improve their grades “relative to girls”.

Although girls have in recent years achieved more A* to C grades at A-level, boys have achieved more A*s overall, and Smithers says this situation could be entrenched.

Professor Alan Smithers

In 2016, girls actually achieved more A*s than boys in 27 out of 35 subjects, but boys were ahead in subjects like maths, which is not affected by the reforms and awards “by far the most” A* grades.

Last year, 17.5 per cent of grades awarded in maths were A*s, compared with 5.7 per cent in English.

Since then, the number of entries to maths has risen by three per cent – from 93,140 to 95,940 – while entries to English have fallen by six per cent, from 84,490 to 79,450.

However, Smithers says exams regulator Ofqual may act to keep grades “similar”.

“Ofqual, the regulator, is committed, however, to consistency over time, so may keep the grades similar by requiring fewer marks to achieve them,” Smithers says.

Under the reformed A-levels, course content has been beefed up and modular exams have been scrapped.

In some subjects – the sciences, psychology, sociology,business and economics – assessment is now based entirely on examination, while in English, history and computer science, exams contribute fourth fifths of the total mark.

Art and design is the only exception, with no examination but 40 per cent of marks awarded based on controlled assessment.

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