A-level results: Fall in top grades caused by more students taking traditional subjects

In its coverage of A level results, the Independent highlights suggestions from exam boards that the drop in top grade passes at A-level this year may have been triggered by a growth in the number of candidates taking traditional academic subjects…

Figures show the percentage of A* to B grade passes fell by 0.5 per cent to 52.4 this year, while the overall pass rate dipped for the first time in more than 30 years from 98.1 per cent to 98 per cent.

It coincided with a major increase in the number of candidates taking the “facilitating subjects” such as maths and science, which are necessary to secure a place at one of the UK’s more prestigious universities.

The exception to the downturn, though, was in the number of papers awarded an A* grade this year which were up from 7.6 per cent in 2013 to 8.2 per cent – a trend put down to the brightest pupils pushing themselves harder now more universities insist on A* grades for entry.

Today’s results, received by 300,000 teenagers, were being described as “the Gove legacy results” – the first to show the impact of former Education Secretary Michael Gove’s exam reforms. He indicated he was relaxed about a drop in the pass rate if it meant exam standards were more demanding and he would have been delighted about the switch to the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.

However, exam boards suggested the drop in top grade passes was more likely to be down to pupils who had previously not considered taking such subjects finding them harder going, rather than the exams becoming harder. “It is harder for the individual, not a harder A-level,” said Andrew Hall, chief executive of the AQA exam board.

In a letter to schools, governors and pupils, the Joint Council for Qualifications, the umbrella body representing exam boards, said: “It is quite probable that [the drop] is due to students taking these subjects  who in the past may have made other choices.

“If these students have found a particular facilitating subject more challenging than their peers, it may have depressed overall outcomes at grade A and grade B.”

Overall, the figures show a two per cent rise in biology, chemistry and physics, a 0.9 per cent rise in maths and 1.5 per cent rise in further maths. The trend of a rise in A* grade passes but fewer A* to B grades was mirrored in all these subjects…

More at: A-level results: Fall in top grades caused by more students taking traditional subjects


Does this explanation for the drop overall in A* to B grades make sense to you? Is it more about the students now taking the exams than the exams themselves? Please give us your experiences and feedback in the comments or via Twitter…


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A-level results 2014: A* grades rise, but overall results drop
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Categories: Secondary.


  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove A lot is being made of a 0.1% (or 300 students) drop in pass rates. At some point results would have to dip. Not significant

  2. HughdjNicklin

    andylutwyche important for showing govt’s success in standing firm on grade inflation? #fiddling No of As up #election_year

  3. rrobson66

    SchoolsImprove I looked at the press release from Ofqual yesterday and the traditional subjects have actually remained pretty stable

  4. andylutwyche

    HughdjNicklin Quite – assuming that the general public are that stupid, although the media’s reporting of it would suggest that we are

  5. HughdjNicklin

    andylutwyche what’s the quote? ‘No-one ever lost money by underestimating the public’s intelligence’

  6. andylutwyche

    “HughdjNicklin: andylutwyche what’s the quote? ‘No-one ever lost money by underestimating the public’s intelligence’” Indeed

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