A-level results released today (10 August) show an all-time high of 44.8% students achieving an A or A* grade.
The growth has been particularly marked in the independent sector, with 70.1% of independent school pupils gaining an A grade or higher. In 2019, the last year traditional exams were sat, the figure was 44%.
By contrast, 42% of academy pupils were awarded at least an A (up from 24% in 2019), while comprehensive schools and sixth form colleges scored 39% and 35% respectively (up from 20% and 22%).
“We pay tribute to every member of school staff for working so hard to support the learning and pastoral care of children,” said Independent Schools Council chairman, Barnaby Lenon.
Responding to questions over the value of this year’s results, head of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton, said it was like “comparing apples with oranges” to relate them to grades from other years. Lenon insisted that “all teachers and pupils should be congratulated, and nothing should take away from their achievements”.
He continued: “In what has been another very difficult year for schools, each one was asked to submit evidence for grades as part of the assessment process – a process with multiple checks and balances approved by the exam boards. Every grade is backed up by evidence, with the final grades determined by the schools and supplied to the appropriate exam board for approval.”
Exam boards queried submitted grades in 15% of schools and colleges, but only 1% were altered.
We should not underestimate the resilience of our young people – Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, Independent Schools Association
“As was the case in 2020, [exams watchdog] Ofqual has designed a system it believes is the best available in difficult circumstances and we hope it enables young people to move on with confidence having received grades of which they are capable,” added Lenon.
Asked about the sharp rise in results across the board, Simon Lebus, interim chairman of Ofqual, told the BBC: “We’ve always said outcomes from this year were likely to be different.
“Exams are a bit like a snapshot, a photograph – you capture an instant – whereas teacher assessment allows teachers to observe student performance over a much longer period, in a rather more complex way, taking into account lots of different pieces of work and arriving at a holistic judgment.
“We can feel satisfied that it’s likely to give a much more accurate and substantial reflection of what their students are capable of achieving.”
It was back in January that the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, confirmed that exams would be cancelled in favour of teacher-estimated grades. Instead, schools were invited to utilise a range of evidence for deciding this year’s grades, including coursework, mock exams and in-class assessments using questions from exam boards.
Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, CEO of the Independent Schools Association, added his voice to those praising students for coming through a uniquely challenging time with flying colours.
“We should not underestimate the resilience of our young people as they navigated through lockdowns, isolations and many other challenges to come through and complete their studies,” he said.
Eastbourne College was among the independent schools toasting A-level success, with results up for the fourth year in a row.
More than 82% of grades awarded were A* – B, an 11% increase on the average from the last four years.
At Brentwood School in Essex, 16 pupils got straight A* grades, five are off to Cambridge and 85% are going to their first choice destinations.
At Bede’s School, 83% of A-level pupils achieved A*- B grades.
“This cohort, like the last, have experienced immense challenges this academic year, yet despite this they have achieved outstanding results and I could not be more proud,” said Bede’s headmaster, Peter Goodyer.
“With the support of their teachers, families and peers they have coped, even thrived, in these uncertain times, and their success and ability to adapt and learn in different ways will stand them in excellent stead for the future. Today we not only celebrate their academic successes but their achievements and growth as individuals.”
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