A-level students have been awarded the highest proportion of As and A*s since 2012, amid changes toughening the exams in England. For the second year running, boys have outperformed girls at the top grades.
Last year, this happened for the first time in 17 years, amid the move to the new-style exams. This year 26.6% of exam entries for boys were awarded an A or A*, compared with 26.2% of girls. This compares with 26.6% and 26.1% respectively last year.
Some 26.4% of exams have been awarded these top grades this year – but the proportion gaining A* to C dropped to 78.4% from 79% last year. England’s exams regulator has said the results show a steady national picture at a time of significant change.
Pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are finding out their results. Overall, 97.6% of A-level entries were awarded A* to E grades.
Examiners dismissed the rise in top grades as “extremely marginal”, while Ofqual has underlined that results have remained steady. In 2012, 26.6% of exams were awarded As and A*s. And in 2017, 26.3% achieved these top grades.
In England, A-levels have been moving away from coursework and returning to students being graded on final exams.
However, a mix of old-style and new exams are being taken in Wales and Northern Ireland. Last year, students in England took new, more challenging exams in 13 subjects, with 11 more following this year. The remaining subjects are being refreshed over the next two years. Regulator Ofqual promised grade boundaries could be lowered, once papers were marked, if the new exams were tougher than expected.
A-levels have also been separated from AS-levels in England, leading to a significant decline in the numbers sitting the separate exam at the end of the first year.
Ucas figures show 411,860 students have taken university places so far – down 1% on last year. But a record 27.9% of the 18-year-old population have already been accepted.
A dip in the number of 18-year-olds, due to a lower birth rate in 2000, means universities are looking to fill their places.
Even the more selective universities are offering places to students through clearing which is the process by which universities fill their unallocated course places.
There has also been a rise in unconditional offers and other ways of attracting students, such as bursaries.