A Level results 2021: Region sees more students achieve top grades

Students at Norwich High School for Girls celebrate A-levels success. 

Students at Norwich High School for Girls celebrate A-levels success. - Credit: Norwich High School for Girls

The number of students achieving top A-level grades has risen at schools across the region.

As pupils pick up their results after a year of education hugely disrupted by the pandemic, 44.8pc of students in the East of England have gained A* or A grades, up from 38.3pc in 2020.

However the figures, published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), show that the region’s overall A-level pass rate for entries awarded A*-E grades are down slightly to 99.4pc from 99.7pc last year.

Nationally, the proportion of A-level entries awarded an A grade or higher has risen to an all-time high after exams were cancelled for the second year in a row due to Covid-19.

Hundreds of thousands of students have been given grades determined by teachers, rather than exams, with pupils only assessed on what they have been taught during the pandemic.


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Girls have performed better than boys at the top grades, and female maths students overtook boys for the first time in the number of A* grades achieved.

Last summer, the fiasco around grading led to thousands of A-level students having their results downgraded from school estimates by a controversial algorithm before Ofqual announced a U-turn.

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This year, no algorithm was used to moderate grades.

Instead, schools and colleges in England were asked to provide samples of student work to exam boards, as well as evidence used to determine the grades for the students selected, as part of quality assurance (QA) checks.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson. - Credit: PA

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said students getting their A-level results today "deserve" the grades they get, dispelling worries about so-called grade inflation.

He said: "Any debate about the system we've used this year should not undermine or question the value of the grades students will be getting.

"We should congratulate them all for their resilience and determination not to allow the pandemic to be a barrier to their futures."

He added it would have been "unfair on students" to examine them after more than a year of virtual lessons for many.

The minister added an appeals system would allow students to challenge their grades if they believed a "genuine error" had been made, and that universities had been asked to be "flexible" in holding open places for these students.

Mr Williamson also said exams could still be sat in the autumn by students "who want the opportunity".

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL headteacher union.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL headteacher union. - Credit: Archant

Former Bury St Edmunds headteacher Geoff Barton, now general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "It is important to understand that the system used to assess students this year is different from both formal exams and the approach that was used last year too, when an attempt to use an algorithm to standardise grades nationally went wrong and had to be abandoned.

"It is therefore invidious to make direct comparisons with other years and vital that we celebrate the achievements of this year's cohort who have had to endure so much over the past 18 months."

He added: "The majority of university applicants will now go on to their preferred university, and those who have missed grades and go through the clearing process will receive support from universities, schools and colleges to find a course which fulfils their aspirations."

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