A-level top grades fall but remain above pre-pandemic levels

The proportion of A-level entries awarded top grades is down on last year but still remains above pre-pandemic levels, national figures show.

Hundreds of thousands of students across the country received their A-level results on Thursday in a year when ministers and the exams regulator in England aimed to return to pre-pandemic grading.

More than a quarter (27.2%) of UK entries were awarded an A or A* grade, down by 9.2 percentage points on last year when 36.4% achieved the top grades.

However, this was still higher than in 2019 – the last year that summer exams were taken before the pandemic – when 25.4% of entries were awarded A or A* grades.

The overall pass rate – the proportion of entries graded A* to E – has fallen to 97.3% this year, which is lower than 2022 (98.4%) and the pre-pandemic year of 2019 (97.6%).

The A*-E pass rate is at its lowest level since 2008 when it stood at 97.2%

The figures, published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), cover A-level entries from students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

TalkTV's Mike Graham, joined by businessman Thomas Skinner, gave some advice to young people receiving their results today.

Mike said: “If the results don’t go your way, don’t worry about it.”

Mr Skinner agreed: “Results aren't the be all and end all. You find what you are good at, learn on that and excel yourself. The school of life is the best thing that can happen to anyone."

The number of applicants accepted on to UK degree courses has fallen this year but it is up on 2019 – the year before the pandemic, Ucas figures show.

Ucas said 79% of 18-year-old applicants from the UK have secured their first choice, which is down from 81% last year but up from 74% in 2019.

In England, exams regulator Ofqual had said this year’s A-level results would be lower than last year and they would be similar to those in 2019 as part of efforts to return to pre-pandemic grading.

It comes after Covid-19 led to an increase in top grades in 2020 and 2021, with results based on teacher assessments instead of exams.

In Wales, results are expected to be “broadly midway” between those awarded in 2022 – the first year students sat exams following the pandemic – and 2019.

In Northern Ireland, results are expected to return to pre-pandemic levels next year.

Overall, the proportion of UK entries awarded the top A* grade this year has fallen by 5.7 percentage points to 8.9% compared with 14.6% in 2022, but it is higher than when it stood at 7.7% in 2019.

Boys have pulled ahead of girls at the top grade this year after female entries were in front for the last three years, with A* grades at 9.1% for the former compared with 8.8% for the latter.

Girls continued to outperform boys at A* and A but the gender gap has narrowed again this year.