A-level grades received by UK students are lower this year than in 2021 and 2020 but remain higher than pre-pandemic levels – the last time students physically sat exams.
Hundreds of thousands of pupils across England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be eagerly opening their results today – with teenagers in Scotland receiving theirs last week.
They are the first cohort to sit exams since the outbreak of COVID-19, which plunged the assessment system into chaos.
The overall pass rate – grades A* to E – this year is 98.4%, down slightly from 99.5% in 2021 but above the 97.6% scored in 2019.
Entries receiving the top grades of A* and A are down 8.4 points from 44.8% last year to 36.4% – but up 11.0 points on 25.4% in 2019.
This year is expected to be highly competitive for university places, as admissions service Ucas acknowledged that universities have been more cautious in their offers.
However results show that a record 425,830 students will be taking up a place at a UK university this year, with more disadvantaged 18-year-olds than ever securing a place.
Maths remains the most popular subject, making up 11.3% of all entries at A level, while English saw a fall in entries this year.
Perhaps a reflection of the turbulent times we live in, there has been an increase in Political Studies entries (+11%) this year.
The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) said girls continued to outperform boys overall, with A* to E grades at 98.7% for the former, compared with 98.1% for the latter.
However, results show that the trend is less pronounced this year, with boys closing the gap in A* grades and in the proportion of those who got A or higher.
In Northern Ireland more than 25,000 students received their results, with the overall pass rate up slightly this year to 99.1%.
In Wales, 98% of students in achieved A*-E grades, with 17.1% of students scoring an A*.
Speaking ahead of the results being announced, education secretary James Cleverly said it was “always” the plan for grades this year to be lower than the last two coronavirus-affected years.
He told Sky News: “They were more generous, and I think that is legitimate, that they were more generous in the pandemic years.
“It was always the plan to get them back. That is going to be seen this year, so students might get slightly lower grades than perhaps they were expecting and that they were hoping.
“But, as I say, we should see the majority of students getting into the institutions that they want to.”
Today also sees the first cohort of T level students receiving their results, with over 92% achieving a pass or above.
T Levels are new two-year courses which are taken after GCSEs and are broadly equivalent in size to 3 A Levels. They were launched in 2020 and prepare students for entry into skilled employment.
Labour’s shadow minister for further education and skills Toby Perkins said he would “certainly look to keep T-levels” after students received the qualification for the first time on Thursday.
He added: “We’d like to see more students doing T-levels but we think they are probably going to need to continue to evolve for them to become a qualification with much larger numbers (of people).
“It’s an important first step, and under a Labour government, we’d look to expand that.”
Kath Thomas, interim chief executive of the JCQ, said the results “represent a huge milestone” in the country’s recovery from the pandemic.
“Not only is it the culmination of two years of hard work, but these students are the first to have taken formal summer exams in three years, so we should all celebrate this achievement,” she said.
“Exams are the fairest way to assess students, as they give everyone the chance to show what they know.
“Today’s results therefore represent a huge milestone in our recovery from the pandemic and are testament to the diligence and resilience of young people and school staff across the country.”