Top A level grade passes fall for third year


The number of top grade passes for A-level students has dropped for the third year in a row, according to government statistics, which may have been triggered by a growth in the number of candidates taking traditional academic subjects.

Figures for the 300,000 candidates show the percentage of papers awarded A* or A grade passes fell by 0.3 percentage points to 26 per cent. Overall, the pass rate dropped from 98.1 per cent to 98 per cent while those awarded an A* to B grade pass fell by 0.5 percentage points to 52.4 per cent.

However, if A* grades are considered in isolation, the percentage of grades actually awarded went from from 7.6 per cent to 8.2 per cent.

This year's results are the first to be awarded which show the impact of former Education Secretary Michael Gove's exam reforms - which shift the focus from a modular approach to sudden death end of course exams. Mr Gove 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.

Education expert Professor Alan Smithers warned: ‘With the removal of the January exams, candidates this year are going to be examined on the whole year.

"Taking the exam at the end of the course is probably going to be more difficult because you have got the whole year’s work to understand.

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.

Ofsted has warned that results at both A-level and GCSE will be ‘particularly volatile’ in 2014. This year is also expected to feature the biggest university clearing round in history, because universities are competing to attract students.

The Ucas admissions service says that so far 396,990 students have been accepted on degree courses at UK universities - up 3% compared with this point last year.

The Joint Council for Qualifications, issuing the results, said there was a trend for more students to take so-called "facilitating subjects" at A-level, such as maths and physics, which can help university applications.

Maths is now the most popular A-level subject.

But there have been big falls in the take-up of subjects outside this mainstream group, such as a 47% drop in critical thinking and 24% fewer entries in general studies.

The Ucas admissions service says initial figures show a 2% increase in students getting their first choice place.

The Russell Group of leading universities has indicated that they may still have places available in some subjects for students who have done better than expected.

In addition, more universities than usual are expected to take part in the clearing process, which matches students looking for a place with any available courses.

Meanwhile, some 659,030 students have applied to start university courses in the UK this year. The latest Ucas statistics show a rise in applications in England, Wales and Scotland of 3%, 2% and 3% respectively. In Northern Ireland the numbers have remained static.

Applications from other EU students rose 5%, while those from non-EU overseas students were up 6%.

The figures also show that, in general, more women have applied than men.

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