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Latest research and data from Ofqual

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AS & A Level results 2018

AS Level

  • This year there was another large decline in total UK entries for AS qualifications; dropping by 52.5% when compared with last year. This follows a 39.1% drop in 2017.
  • This fall is driven by entries in England, where the AS has been decoupled from the A level and is a standalone qualification. In Wales and Northern Ireland, where the AS remains coupled to the A level, AS entries remain relatively stable
  • Mathematics was the most popular subject with 81,051 entries in 2018 (160,450 in 2017; a 49.5% decrease).
  • Note that the significant changes in entry patterns make it very challenging to draw reliable year on year comparisons.

A Levels

Results

      • Overall, the national A level results show very little change compared with last year, although those achieving the top grade (A*) and those achieving a C or above are slightly down:
        • 8% achieving A* compared to 8.3% in 2017
        • 26.4% achieving an A*-A compared to 26.3% in 2017
        • 77% achieving C or above compared to 77.4% in 2017
  • The overall pass rate (grades A*-E) was 97.6%, down from 97.9% last year.
  • For the second year running, males were slightly more likely to achieve the top grades than females (prior to this, females outperformed males):
  • 8.5% of males achieved an A* in 2018 compared to 7.6% of females
  • 26.6% of males achieved an A or above in 2018, compared to 26.2% of females

Entries

  • In 2018, there were 811,776 entries, a drop of 2% on 2017, although the drop in the population of 18-year olds was 3.5%.
  • Entries in Modern Foreign Languages continued to decline, with an 8% drop in those doing French, a 4% drop in Spanish and a 16.5% decrease in students sitting German
  • Collectively, facilitating subjects[3] continued to represent over half of entries at A level, making up 52.5% of all entries compared to 50.2% in 2014. However, within this there are fluctuations:
    • Entries to English Literature dropped by 4.6% compared to last year
    • Entries to Geography were down by 11.3% compared to last year
    • Maths entries went up by 2.5% compared to 2017
    • Entries for Physics increased by 3.4% compared to 2017
  • STEM subjects (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) continued to rise in popularity. In 2018, 36.2% of all entries were in one of these subjects, an increase from 28% in 2009, 33.4% in 2014, and 34.5% in 2017.
    • Male students are more likely to study a STEM subject, with them making up 57% of all STEM entries
    • However, there are signs that the gap is beginning to close; female entries rose 3.1% for Mathematics (compared to males rising 2.1%) and 6.9% in Physics (males rising 2.4%)
  • Maths continues to be the most popular subject; there was a 2.5% increase in entries in 2018, compared to 2017, with a total of 97,627 entries

Some A-level subjects are more frequently required for entry to degree courses than others. These subjects are commonly known as 'Facilitating Subjects' which are: Biology; Chemistry; English Literature; Geography; History; Maths and Further Maths; Modern and classical languages; Physics.

Variability in A level results for schools, 2016 to 2018

Ofqual have analysed the year-on-year variation in the percentage of students achieving grades A* or A in 14 3 of the reformed subjects. This includes mathematics where the reformed A level is available after one year of study, alongside the legacy specifications in mathematics.

  • In general, the level of variation in individual school and college results at A* and A is similar to previous years.
  • Differences between the average (mean) percentage of students achieving grades A* or A in 2017/2018 and in 2016/2017 were generally small, indicating that year-on-year results in the subjects analysed have remained relatively stable
  • Even when there are no changes to qualifications, individual schools and colleges will see variation in their year-on-year results: this is normal.

AS and A level decoupling: Implications for the maintenance of AS standards

The aim of this qualitative study was to gain an understanding of the nature of students being entered to reformed AS qualifications and whether reformed AS cohorts are likely to differ in any systematic way from previous cohorts.

Key findings

  • Some schools had tightened their AS/A level entry criteria and/or were encouraging lower ability students to study AS/A level alternatives. Some schools were discouraging students from studying subjects seen as being harder, or subjects which they had not studied before.
  • This suggests that reformed AS and A level cohorts could have a higher prior attainment profile than pre-reform cohorts.
  • Cost was cited as a reason for moving away from AS (8 out of 17 schools in the sample), it is possible that only the schools who can afford to enter students for AS continue to do so.
  • Schools who had decided to start students on three subjects in year 12 instead of four had increased the amount of teaching time and/or enrichment which could impact on AS/A level performance.
  • This research highlights the need to ensure that, alongside the predictions, examiner judgement is used, since this should help detect any significant changes in performance not related to prior attainment.

About the research:

  •  Ofqual spoke to 17 schools from across England

You can access all of Ofqual's research here

First published 20 August 2018
20/08/2018