A-grades up as students score record A-level results

Author: By Alison Kershaw and Tom Morgan, Press Association

More than one in four exam entries (26.7 per cent) were awarded an A grade –
up from 25.9 per cent last year.

The overall pass rate (grades A-E) was 97.5 per cent, an increase of 0.3 per
cent from last year.

More than three-quarters of entries (75.1 per cent) were awarded at least a C
grade, figures published by the exam boards show.

But the record results will spell worry for some, as students still to find a
university place face an intense scramble.

A surge in applications, fuelled by the recession, coupled with a Government
cap on extra student numbers, means that there are expected to be just
22,000 places available in clearing this year.

It could mean up to seven applicants fighting for every available place.

Clearing, which opens today, is the service which matches students without a
university place to courses with vacancies.

Today’s results show traditional subjects are still firm favourites for
A-level students, with English and maths again the top choices.

There were an extra 7,882 entries for maths this year, and an extra 1,382
entries for further maths, compared to last year.

The statistics also show the tide is turning in science subjects, with an
increase in the number of entries for chemistry and physics.

This may be due to a Government push to encourage pupils to take these
subjects, as well as a backlash against fears that students have been taking
so-called “softer” subjects such as media studies.

There was a fall in the number of candidates taking biology.

Languages also saw a slump in popularity this year, as entries for both French
and German fell. There were 552 fewer entries for A-level French, which saw
an increase in candidates last year.

Jim Sinclair, director of the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), said: “These
are excellent results. They are the outcome of hard work of students and
teachers, who deserve to be congratulated.

“It is particularly good to report improved uptake and outcomes for
mathematics and science.”

More than 300,000 teenagers sat the exams this year.

Mike Cresswell, director general of the AQA, insisted there was no evidence to
suggest exams were getting easier.

He said: “The improvements differ between regions so naive dumbing-down
arguments do not wash.”

He welcomed the increase in the number of science students.

He said: “The three of the sciences are coming through strongly.

“It’s a good news story for the sciences.”

He added that the increase in the volume of economics results could be
attributed to “the dreaded word credit crunch”.

He revealed French and German continued their “slow long-term decline”.

But less mainstream languages – including Chinese and Urdu – are growing.

Dr Cresswell said the differing breakdown of results region-by-region proved
exams were not getting easier. Student exam papers are marked the same
nationwide.

He added: “There are no easy options at A-level. If exams were getting
easier, we would see trends across the regions.

“There are very significant differences in the improvements.

“The North East and London are the biggest improvers in grade A.”

Greg Watson, head of the OCR exam board, accepted that it may be time to “crank
up the standard” to pick out the very best students.

An A* grade will be introduced next year, ensuring universities can filter out
the top students. The grade would only be given to students who achieved a
score above 90 per cent.

He said: “There is a need to create some greater difference at the top
end.

“When we sit here next year there will be a smaller category of students
who have cleared the highest hurdle.”

Today’s figures show that almost half of maths entries – seen as a “tough”
A-level were awarded an A grade (45.2%) compared with one in seven (13.2%)
of media studies entries – often described as a “soft” option.

But Dr Cresswell said this did not mean there was a disparity between subjects.

He said: “What this does tell you is how good students are at their subjects.
Those who do maths A-level are a great deal better at maths than people who
do media studies are at media studies.

“What it doesn’t mean is that some subjects are easier than others.

“There is no easy option at A-level.”

Dr Cresswell said the rising pass rate was in part down to students dropping
subjects after taking an AS level.

This year the AS level pass rate, for 17-year-olds only, was 86.9 per cent.

It is estimated that 13 per cent of candidates who start an A-level will drop
it after taking the AS exams, Mr Watson said.

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