A total of 44.8 per cent of students were awarded an A* or A grade this year - a significant increase from 38.5 per cent in 2020.
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The results were decided by teachers for the second year in a row due to the pandemic, with grades being based on evidence from mock exams, coursework and in-class assessments using questions by exam boards.
Samples of work from around one in five schools and colleges in England were then scrutinised by exam boards as part of quality assurance (QA) checks and Ofqual said it was satisfied that the evidence submitted supported the grades given by teachers.
Which regions achieved the most A grades?
Almost one in five (19.1 per cent) of A Level students received an A* grade this year - another record high which is up from around one in seven (14.3 per cent) in 2020. The results mark the highest proportion of students achieving the top grade since it was first introduced back in 2010.
In England, a total of 6.9 per cent of students were awarded three A* this year, compared with just 4.3 per cent in 2010 and a mere 1.6 per cent in 2019.
Girls scored higher overall at the top grades than boys, with 46.9 per cent achieving a grade A or higher - 4.8 percentage points higher than boys at 42.1 per cent.
Girls had also had the lead over boys for the top grades in last year, with 39.9 per cent scoring an A or A* compared to 36.7 per cent of boys, although boys did briefly take the lead in 2017 and 2018 following a long period of being behind.
This year also saw female maths students overtake boys for the first time in the number of A* grades achieved, figures published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) show.
Performance also varied by region, with the proportion of A* and A grades marginally higher in southern parts of England.
However, top grades were up as a whole across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, rising from 38.5 per cent in 2020 to 44.8 per cent this year.
This is how regions of England compare for the percentage of A-level entries awarded A* and A grades, with the highest achieving areas listed first:
- London - 47.9 per cent - up from 40.7 per cent in 2020
- South East England - 47.1 per cent - up from 41.2 per cent in 2020
- South West England - 44.7 per cent - up from 38.8 per cent in 2020
- Eastern England - 44.8 per cent - up from 38.3 per cent in 2020
- East Midlands - 41.3 per cent - up from 34.5 per cent in 2020
- North West England - 41.4 per cent - up from 35.8 per cent in 2020
- Yorkshire and the Humber - 41.1 per cent - up from 35.0 per cent in 2020
- West Midlands - 40.9 per cent - up from 35.0 per cent in 2020
- North East England - 39.2 per cent - up from 35.6 per cent in 2020
As for the nations, Northern Ireland was the top performing for the second year in a row, with more than 50 per cent of A Level students achieving an A* or A grade. Here’s how the the nations compare:
- Northern Ireland - 50.8 per cent - up from 43.3 per cent in 2020
- Wales - 48.3 per cent - up from 41.8 per cent in 2020
- England - 44.3 per cent - up from 38.1 per cent in 2020
Which regions had the highest pass rate?
The overall pass rate was also high this year, with 99.5 per cent of students achieving grades A* to E. Although this was ever so slightly down from the pass rate of 99.7 per cent in 2020.
Some 88.5 per cent of students received a grade C and above, up marginally from 88.0 last year and the highest level since 2000.
The pass rate was high among all of the regions of England, with northern parts just inching ahead of the south.
Here’s how the A Level pass rate compares across the regions, with the areas achieving the highest number of A* to E grades listed first:
- North East England - 99.7 per cent - down from 99.9 per cent in 2020
- North West England - 99.6 per cent - down from 99.8 per cent in 2020
- Yorkshire and the Humber - 99.6 per cent - down from 99.8 - per cent in 2020
- West Midlands - 99.5 per cent - down from 99.7 per cent in 2020
- East Midlands - 99.5 per cent - down from 99.6 per cent in 2020
- South West England - 99.5 per cent - down from 99.8 per cent in 2020
- South East England - 99.5 per cent - down from 99.7 per cent in 2020
- Eastern England - 99.4 per cent - down from 99.7 per cent in 2020
- London - 99.3 per cent - down from 99.6 per cent in 2020
Among the nations, England, Wales and Northern Ireland all achieved an overall pass rate above 99 per cent, with England just managing to claim the top spot:
- England - 99.5 per cent - down from 99.7 per cent in 2020
- Northern Ireland - 99.4 per cent - down from 99.8 per cent in 2020
- Wales - 99.1 per cent - down from 99.9 per cent in 2020
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has defended the increase in the proportion of higher grades, saying pupils have worked “incredibly hard” after “an extraordinary and challenging year” and the results should be “celebrated”.
It is expected that a “more normal pattern of examinations” will be in place next year, with the government aiming to return to an exam-based system.
While exams are set to resume next year, Mr Williamson said pupils will continue to need extra support in 2022, but he hopes it will be possible to return to a normal system before 2024.
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