A-Level Pass Rates Rise Again For UK Students

About 250,000 candidates in England, Northern Ireland and Wales received their results today, with 8.2 per cent of grades awarded at A*, up from 8.1 per cent last year when the new grade was introduced, writes Jack Grove at the Times Higher Education.

Boys closed the gap with girls at A*. Some 8.2 per cent of boys’ entries achieved an A* this year, up from 7.9 per cent in 2010. Girls’ performance dropped slightly to 8.2 per cent from 8.3 per cent last year. Boys are also closing the gap in math and science.

Another record year for A-levels prompts frantic university scramble, writes Richard Gardner at the Independent.

The University and College Admissions Service (UCAS), was besieged by calls from students seeking advice and an online service helping students to track whether they had got a place crashed. At the height of the rush, the website was receiving 450 calls per second – four times the peak recorded last year.

UCAS immediately apologised to candidates but one computer expert said:

“This is poor performance from UCAS. A-level results day isn’t a freak event that leads to an unexpected traffic surge. It’s a set date.”

The total number of applicants this year was 681,593, up from 673,098 in 2010.

The increase was welcomed by Dame Athene Donald, chair of the Royal Society Education Committee. But she added:

“Whilst it is encouraging to see the numbers of students taking science and mathematics A levels increasing, the numbers are still far too low to meet the needs of both business and education.

Last year about 47,000 places were allocated through the clearing process, with many have predicted an unprecedented scramble for places as students seek to avoid the trebling of the university tuition fee cap in 2012.

“We believe an overhaul of A levels may be needed to enable students to study a greater breadth of subjects, including science and math, such as occurs with Scottish Highers.”

While science and math saw gains, traditional modern foreign languages continue to decline.

Entries for Spanish are down 0.2 per cent, halting a year on year increase since 2002. French and German continue their downward trend, with entries falling 4.7 per cent and 6.9 per cent respectively.

Commenting on today’s results, Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students, said:

“With youth unemployment once again pushing one million, now is not the time for limits on university places, nor for the disastrous combination of education funding cuts and tuition fee rises which have created a perfect storm for a generation of young people.”

Union leaders warned that those who ended up without a place would find little help available for them to plot an alternative career.

David Willetts, the universities minister, said that for those who did not secure a university place:

“it is worth looking at the other options including studying part time, with other organizations offering degrees, or looking for an apprenticeship. You can also choose to reapply next year.”

New figures published by the public service union UNISON showed only 15 out of 144 councils still run a full careers service after government cuts.

“Students should be celebrating their results and planning their futures,” said Dave Prentis, its general secretary. “Instead, they are hit with huge tuition fees, rising unemployment and drastic careers-service cuts.

Ministers are considering forcing schools to publish the proportion of their pupils who go to Oxbridge or Russell Group universities.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said:

“It is a depressing waste that so many bright and talented children still miss out on top universities and the best jobs because they don’t have the same opportunities as their wealthier peers.”

Matthew Tabor

Matthew Tabor

Matthew is a prolific, independent voice in the national education debate. He is a tireless advocate for high academic standards from pre-K through graduate school, fiscal sense and personal responsibility. He values parents’ and families’ rights and believes in accountability for teachers, administrators, politicians and all taxpayer-funded education entities. With a unique background that includes work in higher education, executive recruiting, professional sport and government, Matthew has consulted on new media and communication strategies for a broad range of clients. He writes the blog “Education for the Aughts” at www.matthewktabor.com , has contributed to National Journal’s ‘Expert’ blog for Education , and interacts with the education community on Twitter and Google+.