A-level results 2018

Posted on: 16 Aug 2018
Posted by: Barnaby Lenon

ISC chairman, Barnaby Lenon, makes his observations on the 2018 AS and A-level results.

"First of all, many congratulations to all pupils for their achievements in their A-level exams – a testament to pupils’ and teachers’ hard work and dedication.

"This year saw another tranche of reformed A-levels. It is important to know that the yearly tranches of reform were done in order of the scale of change to the syllabus: the subjects which are most changed, like maths, are in the later tranches. So this means that schools may find more difficulty with their results in the later tranches than the early ones. The first group of reformed A-levels (2017) were little changed in terms of syllabus.

"As expected this year, grade distributions remain much the same - due to Ofqual's comparable outcomes approach to grading, the proportion awarded each grade should be similar to last year. This is done for two good reasons - to halt grade inflation which was undermining the qualification and to ensure that the pioneer candidates in a new qualification are not disadvantaged. The result of this approach to grading is that the marks required for any given grade may be a bit lower in some subjects than before the A-levels were reformed. However, senior examiners do look at scripts on grade boundaries to reassure themselves that standards are being maintained.

"The results for boys and girls are similar - except at top grades where 8.5% of males entries were awarded an A*, compared with only 7.6% of females. Yet, nationally, more girls sit A-levels than boys (because their GCSE results are generally better). There is, as has been the case previously, a remarkable gender imbalance between subject entries. For example, 76% of 2018 entries for English literature were girls, 75% of entries for psychology, 22% for physics and 12% for computer science.

"Unlike in England, AS and A-levels are not decoupled in Wales and Northern Ireland. This is an unsatisfactory state of affairs because universities will not be comparing like with like.

"Take-up of AS levels has fallen faster among independent schools than state schools. Last year about 44% of independent school candidates taking reformed A-levels sat the AS level compared with 70% of state school candidates. The continuing fall in AS entries is down to several reasons. The AS has limited value as a stand-alone qualification and, in some subjects (like English Literature), schools find that teaching the two -year course to the A-level is more successful without having to teach the AS component first. Another reason is the cost of AS exam entries, at a time of tight budgets. Also, taking the AS exams uses up valuable teaching time.

"Despite the current expansion of universities, the numbers taking A-levels are actually falling. This is why students with lower grades should have little difficulty finding a university place – as long as they invest the time phoning universities.

"Ofqual has successfully steered through the reforms, ensuring that different exam boards are comparable and that their assessment methods are fair. Teachers will remember that Ofqual took a long time to accredit some exam board syllabuses and this was because it took the trouble to ensure they were fair and were right.

"It is important to remind ourselves why there were A-level reforms in the first place. Michael Gove was keen to make A-levels more demanding by abolishing modules so that A-levels remained gold standard in terms of the rest of the world. The whole course is now examined at the end of two years. Universities were also keen to update syllabuses so that students were better prepared for degree courses. Teams of university experts helped devise the new specifications."