Sixth-formers who would previously have struggled with “peripheral” A-level courses are now more likely to take practical courses amid an increased awareness about alternatives to A-levels, according to Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University.
He indicated the move would leave more academically inclined students taking A-levels, which could push up the A*-C pass rate marginally.
The comments come just days before around 300,000 students across England, Wales and Northern Ireland learn their A-level results.
Last year, the proportion of A-levels scoring at least an A grade fell for the first time in more than 20 years.
Official figures for 2012 showed that 26.6 per cent of the exams were given an A or A*, down from 27 per cent in 2011 – a record drop of 0.4 per cent.
About one in 12 (7.9 per cent) exams were given an A* grade, down from 8.2 per cent in 2011, while 76.6 per cent of entries got at least a C grade, up from 76.2 per cent the year before.
Prof Smithers said it was difficult to say what the pass rates would be this year, but that it was possible that the A*-C results could go up by tenths of a per cent.
“Apprenticeships are attracting a lot of attention. Many more pupils who have practical talents may be inclined to build a platform to move into apprenticeships rather than take peripheral A-levels,” he said.
“For too long A-levels have been the be-all and end-all, and some students have struggled to reflect their abilities through them. Some students with strong practical abilities have struggled to reflect their true abilities through them.
“Increasingly, they are turning to practical qualifications like BTECs en route to apprenticeships.
“The more practically-minded in the past may have been encouraged to take A-levels, and haven’t done well. Now they’re transferring to practical qualifications and that could affect the overall pass rate.”
He said this could “push up” the pass rate, but only marginally – by a “few tenths of a per cent” as Ofqual has a policy of “ensuring consistency from year to year” in results.
But while a rise in students taking vocational courses could lead to a minor boost in results, it was also suggested that an increased focus on traditional subjects, such as maths and science, could fuel a slight drop.
An Ofqual spokesman said: “This year, we are seeing the trend of movement towards the more traditional subjects at A-level continue, possibly driven by greater awareness of the courses universities prefer and competition for places. This could mean the results look different, as the group of students taking those subjects this year will be different.”
A poll released yesterday found that one in four students do not think they have enough information on alternatives to university, and many still face an expectation that they will study for a degree rather than pick other courses.
It also suggests students want a degree to boost their jobs chances, and pick institutions based on reputation. The survey by The Student Room asked around 4,000 current and potential students their views on university education and reasons for picking courses.