Judgement day for the reformed A-levels


This year’s A-level results were much anticipated. Changes to the qualifications system in England meant that 13 A-level subjects this year (otherwise known as the reformed subjects) would be solely decided by final exams, with no link to AS-levels or coursework.

We’ve eagerly awaited to see what changes this would bring. And now we know. For the first time in 17 years the tides have changed and overall boys have marginally beat girls to achieving the most A* or A grades by 26.6% to 26.1%. Yet, in the reformed subjects the girls performed slightly better, beating the boys by 0.3% to the A* grades – although for the combined A*/A grades, they drew with 24.3% apiece.

So, the broader question is, have the reformed A-levels (which, after all, were designed to make them tougher) had the desired effect? Well, kind of.

Whilst the A-level results show that we’ve seen the first rise in the top grades in six years, A-level students taking the new group of tougher reformed exam subjects such as English, history and sciences saw their chances of getting those top grades dip. The pass rate for the A*-E grades fell 0.2 points to 97.9% with a larger fall among the reformed subjects of 0.5%. But with margins that slim, the shakeup seems negligible.

Experts from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) – which represents the exam boards – says it ‘was not possible to draw accurate conclusions at this stage’ for the different direction of the two groups of A-Levels.

Equally, Sally Collier, the Head of Ofqual, is keen to let students know that the grades for the reformed courses have been awarded in the same way as past years. ‘We have overseen the A-level awarding process in the same way as in previous years and have not intervened to ask any exam board to change the grade boundaries they have set this summer,’ she said.

By and large, the results don’t appear to have thrown up anything that shocking. What was perhaps more interesting was the activity in the run up the results. Britain’s leading universities said that there had been a dip in applications and there were thousands of places left. This was confirmed by UCAS which stated that 416,000 places have so far been confirmed, which is down 2% on last year.

This has to be good news for those students who didn’t quite get the grades they needed or were hoping for. Clearing is no longer a path full of stigma, but one of opportunity. And, let’s not forget, not everyone is cut out for university. Thanks to the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, there are now more channels to the employment market than ever before. Although competition remains high.

Now, that doesn’t go to say that those poor A-level students won’t get the jitters like we all did when opening our envelopes; but it does mean there’s hope. It just might mean taking a different direction. One that might not be so bad after all.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

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Judgement day for the reformed A-levels