By Martin Hodge, Professional Officer (Policy & Research)
The Joint Council for Qualifications has today published the 2019 national results for AS and A levels in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. After years of work, and weeks of revision, exams and waiting for all those involved, Voice would like to congratulate the 300,000+ students and other learners, and their teachers and lecturers, on their achievements.
It is vital that we make every effort to celebrate the achievements of students and teachers who have striven to succeed despite the pressures of reformed curricula, a renewed focus on content and a move to terminal final exam assessment.
There has also been renewed pressure on the regulator in England, Ofqual, over the grading of A Levels, following widespread media reporting of grade boundaries showing that just 55% was required for an A grade in maths, with a similarly low 56% in Biology, while physics students needed 59%.
This summer is the first time that grades for the new A level maths course will be awarded to most students. Students reported at the time that they had found the exam to be very challenging, but overall, A level pass rates and the numbers achieving each grade remain stable and consistent with previous years, as exam boards and regulators strive to maintain standards over time.
Notwithstanding all of the media disquiet, it is encouraging to see stability in the results, with A level outcomes at grades A*-E at 97.6%, the same as the previous year.
A*-A grades do show a slight decrease over 2018 (26.4% in 2018 down to 25.2% in 2019) which is likely to be due to a changing cohort and students’ subject choices.
It is a credit to the teachers that they have been able to adapt to all the changes of the reformed curriculum over the past three years without disadvantaging their cohorts.
It is especially pleasing to see the numbers studying for modern foreign languages stabilising after a period of decline. Outcomes at A*-A also remain stable across French, German and Spanish, with male students achieving slightly higher grades in all three subjects. Spanish has risen in popularity to become the most popular of the modern foreign languages, with an increase in entries of 4.5%.
Science entries have continued to grow to more than 20% of all A level entries, and the gender gap continues to close, with female science entries of 50.3%.
Mathematics continues to be the most popular subject, but entries were down by 5.9%. And whilst more students achieved A* grades, the number receiving A grades dropped slightly. Similarly, in English language and English literature, the outcomes at both A* and A have remained stable despite a decline in entries.
Praise and reward
It is important that we do not undermine, but celebrate, the very real achievement of this cohort of students, especially with proportion of students in Wales getting A* at A-level is at its highest since the top grade was introduced in 2010, and a rise in the proportion of top A-level grades awarded to pupils in Northern Ireland.
The stakes for students, teachers and lecturers continue to climb ever higher, therefore, it is a pleasure to note that in a changing educational landscape, teachers and students continue to succeed and achieve.