Proportion of pupils reaching top A-level grades falls further

The proportion of A-level pupils reaching the top grades has fallen even further this year, despite prior attainment remaining constant.

Provisional figures released by the Department for Education this morning show that 12.3 per cent of all pupils who sat their A-levels this summer received three A*-A grades or better, compared with 12.5 per cent in summer 2018 and 13 per cent in 2017.

Just 20.3 per cent achieved A-A-B or better, down from 20.6 per cent in 2018 and 21.8 per cent in 2017.

The proportion of pupils achieving an A-A-B when at least two of their subjects are ‘facilitating subjects’ – including maths, further maths, English literature, physics, biology, chemistry, geography, history and languages – has also fallen to 15.8 per cent, down from 15.9 per cent in 2018 and 16.6 per cent in 2017.

However, the average point score per entry for A-level has remained stable as a grade at C+, and the underlying point score has risen slightly to 33.77 from 33.05 last year.

The number of pupils taking A-levels decreased by 5.7 per cent, despite the number of potential 16-18 students in the population decreasing by 1.9 per cent.


Gender gap closes as boys do worse

The gap between the number of girls and boys taking A-levels grew by 0.01 per cent last year, with girls making up 54.6 per cent of the cohort and boys 45.4 per cent. Although girls continue to start their A-levels with higher prior attainment, they continue to receive fewer top grades than boys.

However, the gender gap has started to close slightly due to a fall in the attainment of boys. This year, 13.3 per cent of male students achieved three A*-A grades or better, compared with 13.8 per cent last year, while 20.8 per cent achieved AAB or better compared with 21.2 per cent last year.

The achievement of girls has remained stable, with 11.5 per cent awarding three A*-A grades or better, and a small fall from 20.1 per cent to 20 per cent in the proportion achieving A-A-B or better.

A higher proportion of girls (79.5 per cent) than boys (73.5 per cent) entered one or more A-levels.

But a higher proportion of boys (17.4 per cent) than girls (14.5 per cent) achieved A-A-B or better where at least two of the grades were in facilitating subjects. This compares to rates of 14.4 per cent and 17.8 per cent last year.

The gender gap on this measure – 2.9 percentage points – is the lowest it has been since 2016. The gap was 3.4 percentage points last year, and 4.2 percentage points in 2017.

Across both genders, maths was the most popular subject, taken by 37 per cent of boys and 19 per cent of girls. Girls were disproportionately likely to choose biological sciences, with 24 per cent opting for the subject, compared to 17 per cent of boys.


UTCs and studio schools improve average point score – but still come bottom

University technical colleges have the lowest average point score again this year, although this has gone up to 22.91, or a D+, compared to 20.05 or a D grade last year. Studio schools also fared better this year, with their average point score coming in at 25.39 or a C-, rather than 21.18 or D last year.

Independent schools still have the highest average point score for A-level students at 40.92, or a B grade, but this has fallen slightly from 41.02 last year. The report does say that the controversial iGCSE qualifications – which are disproportionately common in the independent sector and have been accused of being easier to pass – were previously counted and now are not.

The Department for Education noted that “care should also be taken when comparing across institution types due to significant differences in cohort sizes and number of schools”. Just 1,297 UTC students and 354 studio school students took A-levels last year.

London and the south east pull away in attainment as the Midlands fall behind

Data at local authority level shows that more state funded pupils in outer London and the south east achieved the highest grades.

In outer London, 11.3 per cent of pupils got three A*-A grades or better and 18.5 per cent got A-A-B or better, while in the south east the rates stood at 11.2 per cent and 19.3 per cent respectively.

The east of England and inner London also did well. In the east of England, 10.9 per cent achieved three A*-A grades or better and 18.3 per cent received A-A-B or better, while in inner London this stood at 10.8 per cent and 18.1 per cent respectively.

However, the figures also show the Midlands lagging behind other areas of the country. Just 8.5 per cent of A-level pupils in the East Midlands and 8.6 per cent of pupils in the West Midlands achieved three A*-A grades or better, with 15.1 per cent of pupils in both areas achieving A-A-B or better.

The average among state-funded schools in England stood at 10.2 per cent for three A*-A grades and 17.5 per cent for A-A-B or better. The north east, north west and Yorkshire were all below-average.

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  1. Good to know the DfE has recognised that care needs to be taken when comparing different types of school when there’s a significant difference in the number of schools in particular categories. Let’s hope the DfE remembers that when it next compares the small number of free schools with the rest.