David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

In all, A level results are closer to 2021 than 2019.

The narrative has certainly been otherwise, and we’ve seen all kinds of dire predictions. But now we have the data.

A level results – UK

The thing that stands out is how wildly different 2021 was from 2019. The 2022 results do split the difference, but with the difference between 2019 and 2021 often approaching 20 percentage points for students getting grade A and above, there is a lot of difference to split.

It’s best illustrated by seeing two scatter plots side by side. You can see how the line of best fit is under x=y (what it would be if the two years were the same) for 2022 against 2021, but quite a long way above x=y for 2022 against 2019.

[Full screen]

However, when we think about a wider range of results (C and above, for example), we can see a much less stark difference. This chart sorts subjects by the proportion of entrants achieving a given grade or above – when we set that to “C or above” you can see that attainment for Mathematics (still the most popular A level) is actually slightly below the pre-pandemic trend when considering all entrants. Here, it appears to be poor performance among men that is causing the issue.

[Full screen]

One other thing to note here is that there is less subject variation, at all grade levels, than in previous years. Exam boards seem to have taken the opportunity to address the issue of “easy” and “hard” A levels (subjects where it is harder, for whatever reason, to get a higher grade) – the upshot here means that grades are up in traditionally difficult subjects (Physics is the classic example) when compared to others. This is likely to cause some pressure on recruitment in STEM subjects.

Looking at all grades for an individual subject helps us see what is going on a little more clearly. For maths, we can see that even though a greater proportion of men achieve an A* (as has happened every year with the exception of 2021), women are more likely to see an A, B, or C – this is how women outperform men in maths.

[Full screen]

Here the thin black line in the centre of each bar shows the number of entries in each year by gender – you can see that those taking A level maths are largely men. A quick look at physics shows a proportional increase in As and A*s putting 2022 nearer 2020 than 2019.

Today at UCAS

Proportionally and numerically, more 18 year old applicants from England, Wales, and Northern Ireland have been placed at their firm or insurance offer on results day this year than in 2019. It is, of course, another bumper year for applications (demographics have a part to play here).

It is also a busy year for clearing – a little over 14 per cent of 18 year old applicants from England, Wales, and Northern Ireland are free to be placed in clearing, up substantially on last year.

[Full screen]

There has been talk about things getting harder for the most advantaged applicants, and true enough POLAR quintile 5 shows the largest year on year drop on the proportion of applicants placed on JCQ (A level and similar Level 3 qualifications in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland) results day. However, you really need to see this in context with the unprecedented rise last year – in comparison with other quintiles Q5 does exceptionally well and remains substantially above the pre-pandemic trend.

[Full screen]

The other pre-results story has been about selective providers recruiting fewer home students. Here again the huge (30 per cent) increase in placed applicants at higher tariff providers has been partially mitigated by a 13.5 per cent drop in 2022. When we also consider the ten per cent rise in 2020 we can be clear that there are still substantially more applicants placed at higher tariff providers than in pre-pandemic years.

It is harder to get a place at a selective provider than last year. But there are still more places, and more applicants meeting offer conditions, this year than in any year pre-pandemic.

[Full screen]

The impact of school type

The 2021 proportion of independent school entrants achieving an A or above at A level was, frankly, ridiculous (a little over 70 per cent, compared to 44 per cent in 2019). This has mercifully fallen in 2022 – but at 58 per cent (compared to 35 per cent at academies and 30 per cent at a traditional comprehensive) it still feels out of whack. Many independent schools are academically selective of course, as are some free schools and other secondary schools – there is (as you would expect) a proportional benefit from selection.

(Apologies that this isn’t an interactive, I’ll update this as soon as I can get at the data)

Ofqual notes that grade boundaries are lower this year than in 2019 – this is an impact of an approach to grading that takes into account the impact of pandemic restrictions (and, I suspect, the additional support offered to candidates). This isn’t a universal effect, however, and there is significant variation by subject.

We’re still waiting for the deeper equalities analysis from Ofqual – this will come later in the year – but we do get an interesting look at the proportion of entries yielding an A or A* by English region.

[Full screen]

Leave a Reply