Release date: 17/08/2017

As nervous sixth-form students around the country receive their A-level and BTec results today, those governing will be wondering what this means for their schools. At this time, headteachers, governors and trustees have access to the pass rate data on a national level (summarised below), as well as the data collected at school level.
Emma Knights, Chief Executive of the National Governance Association, said:

"Congratulations to all those students who have secured the A-level and BTec results they need, and to their teachers for managing recent 16-19 curriculum and assessment changes. However, the national picture seems to confirm governors’ and trustees’ reports that fewer subjects are being studied in sixth-forms, and that these reductions tend to be concentrated in the Arts, including English and History. This is a concern for the National Governance Association and we must make sure our young people leave school having had a broad education, not one limited by the Government's performance measures”.


2017 has been a year of change for assessment and, with the government’s programme of reform not yet complete, it is prudent to exercise caution when comparing results with previous years.

This year, students have sat thirteen new “reformed” A-levels in: art and design, biology, business, chemistry, computer science, economics, English language, English language and literature, English literature, history, physics, psychology and sociology. In these reformed subjects, AS-levels do not count towards the final grade. As such, reformed A-levels are studied over a two year period with one final summative assessment at the end of the second year.

The national picture

Both Ofqual and the Joint Council for Qualifications have released a statement saying that A-level results are stable compared to last year.

There has been a slight rise in the number of students receiving the top grades; with the number of students achieving A*/A grades up by 0.5% compared to 2016. Overall, 26.3% of all grades awarded this year were A*/A. There has, however, been a slight dip in the number of students achieving A*-E, falling by 0.2% to 97.9% of all entries.

When focusing exclusively on the thirteen reformed subjects, there was a decline in student performance when compared to the equivalent A-levels taken in previous years. Overall, national figures show that, for reformed subjects, the: “proportion of A* grades declined 0.5 percentage points to 7.2%; A*-A went down 0.7 percentage points to 24.3%; and A*-E went down 0.5 percentage points to 98.1%.”

An interesting trend to emerge from today is the difference in performance between boys and girls. Historically, girls have performed better than their male counterparts at A-level. This year, however, “there is a suggestion that males are closing the gap”. The number of female students receiving an A* grade in reformed A-levels fell by 0.6% compared to the 0.3% fall for male students. There has also been a larger drop (1.1%) in the number of females achieving A*-A compared to their male counterparts (0.2%). Overall, girls aged 18 were still more likely to receive an A* than their male peers (7.3% of females compared to 7% of males), yet both males and females were equally likely to receive A-A* (24.3%).

BTec students have also received their results today; more than 250,000 students have completed their Level 3 qualification (A-Level equivalent), of which an estimated 100,000 will now head to University according to a report by Social Market Foundation.

Sharp decline in AS Level entry

The biggest impact of the government’s decision to decouple AS and A Level qualifications is the substantial drop in AS-level entries, 42% fewer than in 2016 according to Ofqual. Some of the largest percentage decreases in AS level entries were in engineering, performing /expressive arts and drama. Ofqual state that: “These falls in AS entries are due to a number of factors including the decoupling of AS from A levels as part of the government policy reforms of AS and A levels, funding for 16 to 19, and centres being more likely to enrol students onto three subjects in year 12 rather than four subjects.”

A narrowing curriculum?

General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), Geoff Barton, has pointed to the continued decline in A-level entries in subjects such as music, drama, French and German and the impact of severe funding pressures on schools and colleges. In a press release, he states that: “Combined with the decline in AS level entries as a result of the government’s ill-conceived decision to decouple these qualifications from A-Levels, we are seeing a significant narrowing of the post-16 curriculum”.

NGA shares the concern that the decision to decouple AS and A-Level qualifications and funding pressure is limiting pupil choice.

More information and how to access the appeals process

Ofqual updated its suite of documents on how it regulates GCSEs, AS and A levels yesterday (16 August). These resources cover “what schools and colleges can expect from exam boards and what exam boards, in turn, expect from schools and colleges”. Amongst these documents is information on “reviews and appeals” and “what to do if you think a student’s mark is wrong or an exam board hasn’t followed its processes properly”. Those governing may want to forward this information to executive leaders if they feel that there is room to appeal any of today’s results based on the criteria.

Specifically for governors and trustees, NGA has several useful resources in its Guidance Centre to help those governing understand how the sixth-form system works. This includes A Governors’ Guide to Sixth Forms with information on the 16-19 curriculum offer, budgeting and collaborations.


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