By Martin Hodge, Senior Professional Officer (Policy)

After months of uncertainty and weeks of media speculation the Joint Council for Qualifications has published the 2020 national results for AS and A levels in England and Wales and it is vital that today we celebrate the achievements of the students and their teachers. Two years ago, no-one could have predicted that this was how their A level courses would have concluded. And it is testament to the dedication of the workforce that grades have been awarded on the traditional results date, and students owe their teachers a deal of gratitude for this.


COVID-19 has had a colossal impact on education over the past five months with students losing almost half a year of learning, therefore, although there has been a slight decrease in the overall A level entry for the summer 2020 exam series, compared to last year, this is in line with the decrease in cohort (which fell by 3%).  The overall AS entry has decreased year on year, following reforms in England, where the AS level was decoupled from the A level but remains steady in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Psychology, Sociology and Business Studies all continue to increase in popularity, and Mathematics continues to increase its lead as the most popular single subject, with entries up 0.6% to 12.1% of all A Levels.  And more students than ever achieved the top grades with 17% receiving A* grades and 41.9% receiving A*-A, an increase of almost 1% over 2019.

Similarly, in English Language and English Literature the overall pass rate has seen a small increase as well as there being a welcome increase in entries (English Literature up 1.3%, English Language up 6.6%).

Outcomes for students in modern foreign languages have increased notably over previous years with an average of 17% of students receiving the top grade. Therefore, it is worrying to see the numbers resuming their decline after the levelling out of last year. Spanish continues to rise in popularity and is comfortably the most popular of the modern foreign languages with an increase in entries of 0.9%.  However, French entries declined by 1.1% and German entries dropped by 6.2% to below 3000 entries for the first time.

Science entries have also declined this year although they continue to make up more than 20% of all A Level entries.

Results & Challenges

It is very gratifying to see an increase in the number awarded the top grades with those achieving A*-A rising by 2.4%. The outcomes for females are slightly higher than males at A*-A, but a higher percentage of males received A*. All of this is quite an achievement given the difficulties that students and their teachers have experienced over the last four months. 

It was expected that UK standards would be broadly maintained and that the profile of grades would be the same as previous years and this summer, more than ever there has been a great challenge to ensure the system is fair and that results accurately reflect each student’s achievement. Teachers, lecturers and senior leaders have worked hard to compose realistic Centre Assessed Grades to accurately represent student achievements despite courses being curtailed and coursework and practical work incomplete. A-level grades in Wales will reflect work that has been completed by the students, as AS-levels continue to contribute towards final A-level grades. And in England the inescapable data collections mean that centres have a strong historic pool on which to base their predictions.

We carefully welcome the steps that Ofqual, Education Wales, CCEA Regulation and the government have taken to seek to ensure students receive the correct grades and whilst we acknowledge that six out of ten grades are unchanged we are disappointed that 39% of grades have been adjusted down which perhaps does not seem to take account of the potential achievement of the individual.

Achievement in the face of adversity

The stakes have been particularly high this year and their impact will be felt for years to come. It is important to note that no matter what the statistics may say, today marks a real achievement for this cohort of students. 

Well Done!

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