Hear informed debate: Top A-level marks fall for first time in 21 years

The proportion of A-level exams awarded at least an A grade has fallen for the first time in more than 20 years with many students now facing an anxious wait to see if they have secured a university place.

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This summer’s A-level results reveal 26.6 per cent of exams were awarded an A or A*, down from 27 per cent in 2011 – a drop of 0.4 per cent.

It is believed to be the biggest fall on record for A-levels.

Despite the drop, however, schools, colleges and sixth forms across Yorkshire were celebrating record successes yesterday.

Individual success stories were also being achieved around the region including Ripon Grammar student Lawrence Holmes who secured six A* grades and Daisy Prior at the Grammar School at Leeds who secured five A*s.

The national A* to A pass rate stalled at 27 per cent last year, and the last time it fell was between 1990 and 1991.

Some 7.9 per cent of exams have been awarded an A*, a drop from 8.2 per cent last year.

Ofqual have attempted to control grade inflation by demanding answers from any exam board which delivers big increases in grades this year.

But exam chiefs insisted the drop is down to more students, and a broader range of candidates, taking A-levels.

AQA chief executive Andrew Hall said while the national cohort of 18-year-olds eligible to take A-levels was down from last year, the number of them sitting the exams had risen.

Yorkshire was among the under-represented regions in England when it came to A* grades with a smaller proportion of top marks compared with the number of exam entries. The region had nine per cent of exam entries but just seven per cent of A*s.

Despite reports of success in the region were widespread with education bosses in Bradford, Leeds, North Yorkshire, Rotherham and York all hailing top or improved results while scores of state and private schools celebrated record pass rates.

Leeds City Council deputy executive board member responsible for children’s services Coun Jane Dowson, said: “The results so far have been fantastic and the early signs are that the city’s young people are continuing to be successful in their exam results.”

This year’s A-level students will be the first cohort to be hit by the higher tuition fees as the cap on what universities can charge is almost trebled to £9,000-a-year.

Yesterday also marked the start of an admissions system for higher education that lets universities recruit an unlimited number of students who have achieved at least two As and a B or better at A-level.

This means, however, that universities are likely to have less flexibility to admit students who just miss this standard, as a strict cap remains on those who score less than AABs and fewer places available.

UCAS director Cathy Gilbert said it was too early to say if the new system was having an effect on teenagers getting their first choice university or on clearing.

National Union of Students vice president and former Leeds University Union official Rachel Wenstone said Universities Minister David Willetts had provided “no evidence” that higher education reforms will give students more choice.

She added: “In fact, overall, fewer applicants than last year have had their places confirmed and, as a result of the Minister’s tinkering with student number controls, many now face an anxious wait.”

By 3.50pm yesterday, 358,356 applicants had university places confirmed, down from 391,893 who had places at the same time last year, UCAS figures showed.

Mr Willetts insisted that he was not worried by the drop in the numbers that have been accepted on to degree courses, and that many will gain places through clearing.

He added: “I think our reforms are going to put more power in the hands of students and of course for those who got AAB or better, now those controls have gone, they can go to the uni-
versity of their choice, of course subject to the university’s own capacity.”

The head of a private school in Hull said he believed there was bias toward schools in the south of England in some university admissions.

Hymers College headmaster David Elstone said: “I think if we were in Surrey, we’d get more children into Oxbridge.”