A-level performance and university entrance
18 Sept 2014
Nationally, the pattern of performance at A-level has remained pretty much the same over the last few years, though there was a tiny dip (26.3% to 26.0%) in the percentage of A* and A grades. But some schools are telling us that they have had a dramatic swing one way or the other this year: they seem to be at a loss to explain it. Obviously those whose performance has dipped are doing the most vigorous hand-wringing, and they are casting the net wide to try to find reasons.
Removal of January exams in Y13 left students without the usual motivational boost and teachers without the usual monitoring point. Where these exams were replaced with mocks, they weren't taken seriously enough by either teachers or students.
Schools which previously used this additional exam entry point to maximsie performance could no longer do so, meaning that their perforance was normalised.
Increased performance at GCSE by last year's A2 cohort artifically boosted their suitability for A-level study.
And so on. Schools that have been caught on the hop by the changes to exam structure need to be taking the issue very seriously indeed, because when the new A-levels are introduced next year (in 13 subjects), matters will only get worse.
Russell group universities, among others, have welcomed the changes though, because pupils in schools that weren't playing the system so well are now less disadvantaged.
Dips in performance shouldn't have too big an impact on students' university applications this year, since the number of places available has increased as a result of the removal of capping. However there are more gradual changes in A-level options which are having an impact.
A-level maths is an incredible success story. Numbers have been increasing steadily since 2006 and this year, for the first time, it has become the most popular A-level. Sciences are also growing in popularity.
This could see a shift in university entrance: English literature, maths, physics, chemistry, biology, history, geography and modern and classical languages are the subjects that are required more often than others by Russell Group universities (see Informed Choices), yet geography and languages are in decline, while history and English are pretty much static.
Does this mean it's getting harder to get places on science and maths courses? Well, a quick look at numbers over the past four years show that while maths and science numbers of A* and A grades are only growing by a couple of hundred a year, A*/A grades in English are falling by around a thousand a year. So relatively speaking, yes it could mean that.
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