Tag Archives: a level results

Those A level grades are actually good news

Students who got their A Level, BTEC or T level results yesterday have had a tough few years. They took their GCSES in 2021 after 18 months of major disruption to their studies. That then had an impact on their choices at 16 and their ability to benefit from the next stage. This has all been well understood by their teachers, by exam boards and by universities. We should celebrate the students’ resilience and tenacity, and the ingenuity of the teachers who have been working through some very serious challenges.

Some of the headlines in the press have been rather strident. “Thousands miss top grades as A Level results plummet” is the headline in the print version of the Guardian, modified to “Thousands fewer students in England awarded top A-Level grades” online. That seemingly minor change in wording indicates that the situation is actually more nuanced than it first appeared.

This year the spread of A level grades has returned to close to that in 2019, which means that fewer students have been awarded the coveted A or A* grades. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that their futures are going to any different from their peers in 2022.

A levels and their equivalents act as gatekeepers to Higher Education. In theory, it doesn’t matter where the grade boundaries lie as long as the students’ achievements are ranked correctly. This enables the Universities to identify the students best suited to their courses. (Of course, it is more complicated than that, because we don’t have post-qualification admission, and offers have to be made on predicted grades – that introduces some inaccuracies into the system that may or may not be compensated for during clearing. But that’s a topic for another time.)

As it happens, Universities were aware that grades would be returning to “normal” this year so adjusted their offers accordingly, which should mean that the transition to Higher Education will be smooth for most students. In fact, 79% of students who applied to University this year achieved the grades to get into their first choice, compared with 74% in 2019 – so that left more students happy with their results than pre-pandemic.

Whilst that is the overall picture, there is one striking anomaly. The Guardian article mentioned above includes this statement: “Independent and grammar schools had the largest drop in top grades compared with last year”. Put another way, the students who benefitted most from the temporary assessment processes used during the pandemic were those in selective and fee paying schools – the very pupils who are already advantaged by our skewed education system.

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STEM subjects lead the way

The number of entries for different A Level subjects in England makes for interesting reading. The top subject is Mathematics which is way ahead with 90k entries, followed by Psychology (76k), Biology (66k) and Chemistry (55k). In fact those four subjects have been the most popular from 2018 onwards.

STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) have dominated A level teaching for many years. In fact, of the ten most popular subjects, seven (Mathematics, Psychology, Biology, Chemistry, Sociology, Physics and Economics)  are STEM subjects.

This is generally to be welcomed, but with a couple of caveats.

First, exam entries do vary by gender across subjects.  I can’t find the gender data for this year, but from Summer 2021 we can see that more girls took the following subject than boys:

  • Psychology: 75% of entries were by females
  • Biology: 63%
  • Chemistry: 55%
  • Sociology: 75%

But more boys took three of the top ten STEM subjects :

  • Mathematics: 39% female
  • Physics: 24%
  • Economics: 31%

The figure for Mathematics is particularly worrying because Mathematics is a basic requirement for so many STEM degrees. The gender imbalance in those degrees is still quite marked. Physics is also avoided by girls – again this is a significant requirement for further study in most Engineering subjects.

And if we look further down the popularity table at Computing, only 16% of entries are by girls. I find this puzzling, having run A Level and BTEC courses in Computing over many years in the 80s and 90s. I can certainly remember a much higher proportion of girls taking the subject each year, and indeed progressing to further studies or employment in the field.

The fact is that girls consistently outperform boys on most A Level subjects (in terms of A/A* grades) including Mathematics, Physics, Economics and Computing. So why are so many girls still reluctant to take those subjects at A Level?

Second, with a preponderance of STEM subjects in the top ten, Humanities and Arts subjects are being squeezed out. This year English Literature has dropped to 12th position. We are all aware that Music and Drama are in serious decline in schools.

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17 August 2022 – today’s press releases

  • Inflation figures: People will never forgive this Government for abandoning them
  • Thames Water hosepipe ban: slap in the face for millions of people
  • “Nasty party”: Kwarteng must clarify Truss’s shameful ‘graft’ comments
  • 75,000 A-Level grades set to be deflated under Government’s exam plans
  • Councillor Sykes welcomes change in law barring sex offenders from standing for or holding elected office

Inflation figures: People will never forgive this Government for abandoning them

Responding to inflation reaching 10.1% this morning, Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesperson Sarah Olney MP said:

Britain is heading for the worst economic crisis in a generation, yet the Prime Minister has clocked off early whilst Sunak and Truss are too busy squabbling amongst themselves.

Families and pensioners will never forgive this Conservative Government for abandoning them in the middle of a cost of living catastrophe.

The answer is staring Conservative MPs in the face but they refuse to act. Energy bills must be frozen immediately or else millions of people will be plunged into financial devastation this winter.

Thames Water hosepipe ban: slap in the face for millions of people

Responding to the news that Thames Water will enforce a hosepipe ban, Liberal Democrat Environment Spokesperson Tim Farron MP said:

This is a slap in the face for millions of people when Thames Water is losing a quarter of all their water to leaks.

Their gross negligence to fix leaks is set to inflict hosepipe ban misery across the South. We wouldn’t be in this mess if Thames Water bothered to invest properly. Instead, water companies are choosing to pay themselves billions of pounds in profits and reward their CEOs with insulting bonuses. Thames Water is putting profit above the public and environment.

Ministers are to blame for letting profiteering water companies get away with it. Under this Government, our rivers have become polluted with sewage and water pipes rusting with leaks.

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2 September 2020 – today’s press release

Education Secretary must come clean about what he knew, and when

Speaking after the Chair of Ofqual told MPs today that it was a “fundamental mistake” to believe a controversial algorithm initially used for A-level and GCSE results would “ever be acceptable to the public”, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Daisy Cooper said:

The A level scandal caused untold distress and anguish for too many young people.

It is now clear as day that the Education Secretary stubbornly refused to heed warnings about this approach and that the decisions which led to this fiasco were firmly in his hands.

Pupils and parents need

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17 August 2020 – today’s press release

PM must apologise over grade award “shambles”

Ahead of the expected announcement that all A level and GCSE pupils in England are to get their teacher assessed grade, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Layla Moran said:

Despite the warnings, the Education Secretary’s botched handling of grade awards has left countless young people stressed and anxious. The Prime Minister must show leadership and personally apologise for his Government’s shambles.

This expected U-turn is victory for common sense and rightly answers calls from Liberal Democrats and others, but it should never have gotten this far.

While it is embarrassing for the Government, it has been excruciating for

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15-16 August 2020 – the weekend’s press release

Algorithm used for A-Levels and GCSEs should be scrapped

Responding to reports that the exams regulator is reviewing its guidance on how to appeal A-level and GCSE grades using mock exam results, just hours after publishing it, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Layla Moran said:

Young people are being let down, and the confusion and uncertainty emanating from the Government is only making the situation worse. Things are getting ridiculous.

There has been mistake after mistake after mistake with Gavin Williamson over the last few of months.

The algorithm used for A-Level grades has clearly not worked and therefore should be scrapped with teacher grades

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Exam grades and what they should have done

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In this post: Exam Results and Gradings Ianto Stevens explained how and why examiners moderate exam results to try to smooth out inconsistencies from year to year. Some of this was to compensate for variations in the difficulty of exam papers. The overall aim was to give the same balance of grades as in previous years.

For example, suppose on a particular A Level physics paper, students across the country get markedly higher marks than in previous years. Examiners will assume that the students are of much the same ability as previous cohorts and that the variations are due to the questions asked and the marking guidelines. It is almost impossible to write a series of exam papers that produce the same range of results each time.

The problem this year was that this legitimate moderation process was applied not to actual written exam papers but to teacher’s predictions.

I spent many years teaching and organising A level and BTEC courses in a large FE college. Each year the whole of my Easter break was devoted to assessing and ranking coursework projects for some 60 A level Computing students. And, of course, I had to provide predicted grades which I based on their AS levels, mock exams and the state of their coursework at the time when the predictions had to be submitted.

I do understand why there was a reluctance to simply award the students with the grades predicted by their teachers. If that had happened then the overall grades would have been significantly higher than in previous years. The consequence would have been that a higher number of students would have met the conditions set by universities, so there was a danger that courses might have been oversubscribed. Universities always offer more places than they can fill, on the basis that not all will qualify.

So, to avoid a glut of qualified students, the raw predicted grades were treated as though they were actual marks and were moderated to bring them in line with other years. What is more, the moderation was applied at the level of an individual school or college rather than across the whole exam entry cohort – a granular application of a holistic method.

I will argue that it was not necessary to moderate the grades at all, but first let’s take a look at the procedure that was adopted. The actual predicted grades were ignored and the rankings used instead. These were mapped on to the spread of grades achieved in that subject, in that school or college, over several previous years. So if in previous years, on average, 5% had been awarded a U (ie fail), then the bottom 5% in the ranked list this year would be given a U, and so on across all the grades.

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15 August 2020 – the overnight press release

Appeals cost u-turn alone will be cold comfort, Liberal Democrats warn

Responding to reports that the Government will cover costs of all appeals after thousands of students have not secured places at their first choice universities due to downgraded results, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Layla Moran said:

For the young people who have worked so hard to not get the results they deserve, through no fault of their own, this annoucement alone will be cold comfort.

While this should never have been needed, it is right the Government has listened to the Liberal Democrats and others and u-turned.

Ministers must also now ensure that

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14 August 2020 – today’s press releases

  • Liberal Democrats call on Williamson to resign in the face of grades chaos
  • Plummeting health visitor numbers demand action, Liberal Democrats warn

Liberal Democrats call on Williamson to resign in the face of grades chaos

Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson Layla Moran has described Gavin Williamson as “out of his depth” and said that he must go in the wake of yesterday’s “shambolic” grade outcomes.

Moran’s push for Williamson to resign follows criticism of the Secretary of State’s errors through the COVID-19 crisis, from the failure to ensure disadvantaged pupils had access to remote learning devices to botched efforts to open schools more widely before the pandemic was under control.

The Party are calling for all pupils to have a right to appeal their grade awards with no charge, and the chance to sit the examinations at the earliest possible date at no cost. They are further demanding that the Government urge universities to be lenient in admissions requirements.

Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Layla Moran said:

The shambolic handling of A-level results has left many young people in crisis. Despite the warning signs from Scotland, the Education Secretary pushed ahead with plans which ignored teachers’ advice and have disproportionately affected pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. With this unfair system, he has created untold confusion and distress.

Gavin Williamson is an Education Secretary out of his depth and out of excuses. He must take responsibility for his mistakes and step down with immediate effect. Our young people and our country cannot afford these blunders to continue into September, ahead of a potential second wave.

If the Government continue to refuse to put their trust in teachers predictions, they must ensure every pupil has the right to appeal free of charge, and the opportunity to sit these examinations should they wish. We also need to see clear guidance from the Government to universities to ensure greater leniency in admissions decisions.

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13 August 2020 – today’s press releases

  • Millions of EU citizens living with uncertainty must be given right to stay
  • Appeals process critical to ensure grade awards do not “derail” students’ futures
  • Record NHS waiting lists point to another health crisis, Liberal Democrats warn

Millions of EU citizens living with uncertainty must be given right to stay

The Liberal Democrats are calling on the Government to grant EU citizens the automatic right to stay in the UK, with the physical proof they need, as new Home Office figures reveal thousands are being refused and millions are still awaiting a final decision.

The latest EU Settlement Scheme statistics, published this morning, reveal 4,600 people have been refused Settled Status, while 1,475,500 have only been granted temporary ‘Pre-Settled Status’ and 212,400 are still waiting for a decision.

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Christine Jardine said:

For far too long, millions of EU citizens in the UK have been living under a cloud of uncertainty. Boris Johnson cannot be allowed to continue to break his promise to them.

With so many people being refused Settled Status, granted only temporary ‘Pre-Settled Status’ or still waiting for a decision, it’s clear that this Conservative Government’s scheme is anything but automatic.

And without physical proof of their rights, EU citizens will be at the mercy of the Conservatives’ Hostile Environment. They must not become the victims of a new Windrush-style scandal.

That is why Liberal Democrats have called for EU citizens to be given the automatic right to stay in the UK, with the physical proof they need.

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A Level Results: are we too university focused?

Across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, A level students find out their results today. Will their grades be enough to get them into the university course that they want? For those who don’t, it’s likely that they’ll feel that their whole lives have been blighted and their opportunities for career success blighted. This is because we have come to equate success with a university education when in fact there are many other routes to a happy, fulfilling, lucrative career. Do we put too much pressure on our children to go to university?

Christine Jardine, former Special Adviser to Nick Clegg and …

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