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Primary Education News
News A-level results 2013: fall in A* grades for girls drives decline in top marks
Overall proportion of A and A* marks dips for second year in a row, as maths and science entries rise and languages fall
A dip in the number of girls achieving the highest A-level grades was behind a slight fall in the proportion of students receiving A* marks in 2013, as part of a wider shift towards increased numbers taking more demanding subjects such as science and maths.
David Willetts, the universities minister, said the fall in the highest grades awarded showed "we're off the automatic escalator" of year-on-year grade increases.
Overall, the proportion of papers receiving A and A* marks fell for the second year in a row, with a 0.3 percentage point reduction in the proportion awarded A*, driven by a 0.5 percentage point fall among girls. Among boys there was a fall of 0.1 percentage point, to 7.9% awarded A*, compared with 7.4% of girls.
The proportion of papers awarded an A remained unchanged, at 18.7%. In total, 26.3% of A-level papers were given A or A* grades, compared with 26.6% in 2012, while the total proportion gaining A*-E grades rose by a sliver to 98.1%, the 31st annual improvement.
Maggie Atkinson, the children's commissioner for England, said the results were "testament to the hard work, diligence and dedication of our young people and demonstrate just what they are capable of".
The proportion of female candidates awarded A and A* was higher than males, at 26.7% and 25.9% respectively.
Andrew Hall, of the AQA exam board, said the overall results were similar to previous years. "The outcomes for A-levels are very, very stable," he said.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School College Leaders, said: "Our view is that these variations are marginal. Basically, A-levels are in a very stable state."
Despite a fall in the number of students taking A-levels, because of a demographic drop in the school age group, there were rises in the numbers taking the more challenging subjects favoured by universities.
Wendy Piatt, director of the Russell Group of leading research universities, said: "It is encouraging to see another overall increase in the number of students taking A-level maths and sciences. We are pleased that efforts by our universities and others to persuade students to consider carefully the real benefits of taking science and maths appear to be paying off."
Willetts said the underlying shift was welcome if it meant students were thinking more carefully about their career options. "I still come across young people who have decided, at the age of 15 or 16, sometimes without proper advice or consideration, on quite a bizarre mix of A-levels, which in turn seriously limits the university course options open to them," he said.
The exception was modern languages, such as French and German, which both saw sharp falls of 10% in the numbers of entries.. Spanish, though, bucked the trend with a slight increase. The continued fall in the numbers taking modern languages has prompted the exam boards to announce an inquiry into the lack of demand and poor performance.
Gender disparities show no signs of abating in many subjects. Girls made up nearly 78% of English entries, and boys made up more than 79% of physics entries. In both subjects the gap widened significantly this year compared with 2012.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Today's results demonstrate the continued high achievement of students and the hard work of their teachers, irrespective of shifting goalposts and the many unfounded attempts to discredit the qualification.
"A-levels have been the subject of sustained political scrutiny, yet the case has not been made that the government's reforms represent the best way forward or that A-levels are not fit for purpose."
With the results distributed, attention now turns to the university clearing process, as university-bound students who performed above or below their expected results are matched with universities with course vacancies.
Last year some leading universities were left with unfilled places after a desperate scramble caused by new rules allowing unlimited recruitment of students gaining at least two A grades and a B. This year the bar on uncapped recruitment has been lowered to include students earning an A and two B grades, meaning a larger number of students able to seek offers from more competitive courses.
As a result, this year more than half of the 24 members of the Russell Group of leading research universities have said they will enter clearing, including Durham, Leeds and Glasgow.
Paul Clark, director of policy at Universities UK, said that despite annual predictions of chaos, university admissions departments would cope well with the clearing rush.
"As will be the case for hundreds of thousands of applicants, if they get the grades asked for in their offer, they will get their place. For students who miss out narrowly, there may still be opportunities to find a course that suits them via clearing. Last year, over 50,000 accepted places via this route," Clark said.
To make the process worthwhile, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills published research estimating that the net lifetime benefit – after tax and loan repayment – of a degree on average was £168,000 for men and £252,000 for women.
But for too many, today will see little cause for celebration. "With all the focus on results day, it sometimes easy to forget that the majority of young people don't get two A-levels and that almost half don't achieve level three qualification at all," said Dom Anderson, vice-president of the National Union of Students.