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A-level results 2012: A and A* grades fall


A-level results 2012: A and A* grades fall

Students at Lodge Park technology college in Northamptonshire receive their A-level results [linksThe proportion of A-levels resulting in the top A or A* grades has declined for the first time in two decades

Jeevan Vasagar, education editor

The share of A-level entries getting the top grade has fallen for the first time in two decades in results published on Thursday for more than 300,000 candidates.

The results show that 26.6% of grades issued this year are A or A*, a fall of 0.4% compared with last year. The overall pass rate at all grades has risen for the 30th successive year, to 98%.

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The race for places in clearing has begun, with Ucas announcing that 357,915 students have been accepted on to university courses this year, as of midnight, down 6.95% on 2011. The sharp drop in acceptances to university may be partly due to a gap between predicted grades and outcomes this year.

For the first time since the A* was introduced in 2010, boys outperformed girls at the grade. Eight percent of boys' entries achieved an A*, compared with 7.9% of girls' entries in results for 335,000 candidates in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. The A* grade requires marks over 90% in a candidate's second-year exams.

Since 2009, the exams regulator, Ofqual, has adopted a new approach intended to contain grade inflation by comparing examiners' marking of candidates against the performance of that year-group at GCSE, as well as previous years' A-level results. The approach was introduced for the new AS-level specification first awarded in 2009, and the revised A-level first awarded in 2010.

In this year's results, entries for maths increased 3.8% compared with last year. Maths entries have risen by 45.6% since 2007. Maths, the second most popular A-level subject after English, was taken by 85,714 candidates this year. Entries for biology, the third most popular subject, were up 1.7%. Physics and chemistry were also up on last year.

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The take-up of foreign languages continues to decline. The number of grades awarded in French was down 5.2% on last year, and German down 7.6%. The sharpest decreases in subject entries were for critical thinking, down 35.1%, and general studies, down 13.24%.

Despite a drop in demand for university places after the introduction of higher tuition fees, getting a place on a degree course remains intensely competitive. This year there have been more than 629,000 applications for about half a million university places.

Mary Curnock Cook, the Ucas chief executive, said: "Despite the fall in applications this year, entry to higher education remains competitive and we expect to see an active clearing period. Over 25,000 courses are showing vacancies for UK applicants. More than 50,000 people found a course in clearing last year."

Under reforms introduced by the coalition, universities will be able to expand to take on as many UK students as they wish who achieve grades of AAB or higher at A-level. This change was intended to inject some competition into the university sector, modifying a system in which universities have a fixed quota of places for UK undergraduates each year.

The universities minister, David Willetts, has urged institutions to take advantage of the reforms and compete against each other for undergraduates. However, this change may have a limited impact on the most selective universities, many of which recruit students with higher grades than AAB and have no plans to expand.

Oxford and Cambridge have ruled out expanding under the AAB reform. Among Russell Group universities, Bristol plans a significant expansion – admitting an additional 600 UK undergraduates this year – while University College London intends to add another 300.

Some universities have sought to attract high-performing students with scholarships, including the offer of a £1,000-a-year award at Coventry, and a £2,000 scholarship offered by Kent to any student who achieves three As at A-level.

Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell group of universities, said: "This is the first year that student number controls have been lifted for those students getting AAB or above and even now it is too early to tell how the new approach will affect the final numbers of students entering any individual university or any particular course.

"Our leading universities will not decide en masse to expand at the first opportunity, but some with the capacity and demand are now choosing to recruit more students, in some cases on particular courses."

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "These results are a real testament to the commitment and hard work of young people and their teachers. The government should recognise this rather than continually undermining such achievement with talk of grade inflation and dumbed-down qualifications.

"The increase in entries in maths and science subjects is welcome but it is still a significant concern that modern language learning continues to decline."

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "More students than ever are taking A levels and for many, getting a B or C grade is a real achievement. When you have a cohort with a wider range of ability, it is not surprising that the percentage achieving A and A* drops slightly. There will always be fluctuations in grades and I would not be overly concerned about half a percentage point decrease in top grades.

"The continuing fall in numbers taking modern languages is a real concern. A-level students are savvy and have their eye very much on the job market. They've heard the messages loud and clear that employers want mathematics and science graduates, and these subjects have increased. If we are going to turn around the decline in modern languages, employers, universities and the government must send out the message that modern language skills equal employment opportunities."

Source: The Guardian UK



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