A-levels: Fewer students get highest A-level grades, and more are going to university

Students check their A-level results. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Students check their A-level results. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire - Credit: PA

The gap between the very top-performing girls and boys at A-level has narrowed for the first time in five years, as the proportion of A* being awarded to students in 2016 also dropped, official figures show.

The proportion of students offered the coveted A* and A grades in the UK dropped slightly, from 25.9% in 2015 to 25.8% this year.

Meanwhile, early Ucas figures show a record number of almost 424,000 A-levels students have been placed in UK higher education as of midnight - up 3% on last year.

Boys continued to earn more A*, with 8.5% achieving the very top grade - although this is down from 8.7% last year, contrary to some predictions.

Girls also dropped, from 7.8% at A* to 7.7%, meaning the gap between the two sexes has narrowed to 0.8% from 0.9%.


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Including A grades, girls continue to slightly out-perform their male counterparts - with 25.9% for girls compared with 25.8% for boys.

Mathematics remains the most popular subject, accounting for 11.0% of all entries, followed by English (10.1%) and biology (7.5%), the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) said.

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Entries in French, German and Spanish all dropped.

The number of exams taken has declined by 1.7%, from 850,749 last year to 836,705.

The results follow changes in a decoupling of AS-levels and A-levels,

Michael Turner, the JCQ's director general, said: 'Overall, outcomes are relatively unchanged.

'However, the shift in entry patterns and the introduction of new specifications in reformed subjects could lead to a greater volatility in year-on-year results in some schools and colleges than is experienced in a typical year.'

A-level results day in numbers

:: The number of candidates receiving top grades has fallen for the fifth year in a row. A total of 25.8% of entrants scored either an A or A*, down from 25.9% in 2015.

:: 8.1% of entrants received an A*, down from 8.2% last year.

:: The gap between girls and boys receiving the top grades has narrowed to its smallest for at least 10 years. The number of girls who got A or higher was 0.3 percentage points more than the number of boys. In 2006 the gap was 2.6 percentage points.

:: The gap between the best-performing girls and boys has narrowed for the first time in five years. The number of boys who got A* was 0.8 percentage points higher than girls - down 0.1 points on 2015.

:: The overall pass rate (grades A*-E) was 98.1%, unchanged on last year.

:: There were 836,705 entrants for the exams, down 1.7% on last year's total.

:: The most popular subject this year was maths. It was taken by 92,163 students, a slight fall of 0.6% on 2015.

:: English was the second most popular subject. It was taken by 84,710 students, a fall of 5.4% on 2015. The third most popular subject was biology, taken by 62,650 students, a drop of 1.0%.

:: General studies saw the biggest drop in candidates of any subject with more than 1,000 entrants. The number fell by just over a third (35.0%).

:: Computing saw the biggest jump in entrants, rising by 16.0% on 2015.

:: Almost three in 10 candidates in Northern Ireland achieved grades A or above (29.5%). The equivalent rate for England was 25.8% and for Wales it was 22.7%.

:: Northern Ireland also saw the highest overall pass rate (grades A*-E): a total of 98.2% of entrants. The figure for England was 98.1% and for Wales it was 97.3%.

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