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A-Level Results Released After Attempts To Return To Pre-Pandemic Grading System

Emma Burnett

As over 800,000 students received their A level results last week, Impact‘s Emma Burnett reports on the outcomes for students.

With the government and Ofqual taking steps to return to the grading systems used before the Covid-19 pandemic, there was significant decline in grades across the UK, in comparison to 2022.

Top A-level grades dropped compared with the last three years, but remained above pre-pandemic levels overall.

We are now seeing a return to normalcy in UK education

Nevertheless, data shows that the number of A*-E grades (the pass rate) was 0.3% lower than the pre-pandemic year of 2019, and at its lowest since 2008.

We are now seeing a return to normalcy in UK education, as we move on from the disruption caused by Covid-19 in the past few years.

2019 was the last year in which A-level and GCSE examinations took place as normal. The results of this cohort are somewhat comparable to those of the 2023 cohort.

As shown in this graph published by Ofqual, results at grade C and above were at a similar level in both 2019 and 2023. That being said, the proportion of A* grades have increased since 2019, with around 26,000 more received this year.

“I think most students had to adapt and work even harder”

Despite the disruptions to their education brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2023 cohort in England were graded at a similar level to the 2019 students, whereas Wales and Northern Ireland chose to take a more lenient approach to marking A-levels this year- many students were made aware in advance of topics that would be on the papers.

Zara Lawrence, an A-level student who collected her results last week, shared her thoughts:Overall I do understand that grade boundaries needed to return to pre-covid levels. However, I do think there should have been more leniency compared to 2019, because although our A-levels weren’t directly impacted by Covid-19, our GCSE level knowledge was interrupted. So, I think most students had to adapt and work even harder to get the grades they wanted.”

This year’s A-level results also highlighted the regional disparities in top grades across the UK. As portrayed in this infographic, also by Ofqual, there are large gaps in the proportion of A*/A grades between certain regions, with the South East and London repeatedly coming out on top.

Gaps between certain regions have been increasing since 2019

What is more revealing, however, is the gap between these particular regions and the rest of the country. Having the highest percentage of A/A* grades in England, the South East is 8.3% ahead of the North East, which had the lowest percentage.

The second infographic, by Tes Magazine, highlights the above, and shows that the gaps between certain regions have been increasing since 2019, as the South East and London continue to receive a considerably larger proportion of A*/A grades each year.

What is equally notable is that these regional disparities exist also within Oxford and Cambridge university admissions, with 47.6% of students admitted to Oxford between 2020 and 2022 coming from the South East and London.

Conversely, students from the North East made up only 2.4% of the students admitted.

Higher education will be the next stage of life for a lot of students who received their results last week – with almost 79% of applicants securing a place at their first-choice universities, and around 90% making their insurance choice.

Some people are arguing that university grade requirements are too high

Nonetheless, a record-breaking number of students have found themselves in ‘clearing’ this year. The clearing system allows students who didn’t manage to get the grades needed for their chosen universities, or who have changed their mind about their course choice, to apply for alternative courses which have unfilled spaces.

Due to the high volume of students who have had to go through clearing this year, some people are arguing that university grade requirements are too high – especially with A-level grade boundaries returning to pre-pandemic level.

Impact spoke to a current year 12 student about getting his A-level results next year. He said,I am anxious that grades next year will be even lower and I might miss out on going to the university I want to go to.”

For those who choose not to go down the university route, there are now more post-A-level options than ever before. Whether it be starting an apprenticeship, doing a placement year, taking a year out, or starting a full-time job, school leavers nowadays have a range of options outside of going to university.

A-level results day can certainly stir up a lot of stress and anxiety for students. The return to the pre-pandemic system of grading has undoubtedly had an impact on the next steps taken by many school leavers this year.

Emma Burnett

Featured image courtesy of MChe Lee via Unsplash . Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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