Universities are reporting a record acceleration in A-level results in England and Wales this summer, with up to half of applicants achieving two A grades, leaving fewer places available for those missing their first choice.
A university admissions official said he expects the top A * and A marks could be awarded to 45% of applications, based on results so far, while others said the increase in results exceeded optimistic expectations.
Last year, over 38% of applications in England were awarded with A or A *, which is a big increase from the 25% awarded in 2019, when students took the last formal exams and the proportion of grades was managed by the exams regulator, Ofqual.
A university official said: “We are seeing B’s turn into Aces and A * … with the vast majority of applicants comfortably qualifying for their offers.”
But, he warned: “We can only see the results for the students who hold our offers – the situation may well be different at other institutions in different directions.”
Candidates with level A generally apply with three levels of subjects. Another offer of admission said its institution recorded “about an inflation rating compared to last year” in the top three scores for each student.
Mark Corver, admissions analyst at DataHE, said last year’s increase in scores brought the average scores for applicants from BBB-BBC to close to ABB. If admissions officers ‘reports hold true, applicants’ average scores would increase this year to move closer to AAB.
Corver said such an increase would bring the scores of this year’s applicants closer to the expected scores of teachers through the Ucas admissions system in 2020. “In this case, the effect on the applicant pool that we estimated in this assumption is that those who get AAB or higher would go from 45% to 55%, ”Corver said.
DataHE had advised its higher education clients to test their offerings assuming a similar acceleration in grades to 2020 as a “worst case” scenario. “We would see that as an upper bound, with the real increase more likely to be a little lower,” Corver said.
The government has already announced additional funding for places in medical and dental schools to cope with the higher number of qualified students. Several universities are also preparing to offer incentives to students who may delay their entry.
School and university leaders said accusations of unwarranted grade inflation were unfair to students and teachers, who had been forced to accommodate the government’s cancellation of formal exams.
Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of the National Association of Principals, said: “This year’s grades are based on actual student work, rated by their teachers, moderate and of guaranteed quality. This process has been carefully managed and each rating must have some supporting evidence, so there is no sense in claiming that the ratings have been falsely inflated.
“It is not true to say that the rating was simply more generous in order to compensate for the disruptions, as some have claimed. A statement like this is deeply unnecessary at this point, when students are only days away from getting their results. “
Professor Graham Galbraith, Vice Chancellor of the University of Portsmouth, said it was “unreasonable” to compare this year’s results with other years. “Can we not forget the obsession with inflation for this atypical year? Isn’t it more important that students get to where they want to go?
Part of the pressure on places comes from the increase in the number and proportion of applicants this year. A record 682,000 applied through Ucas, an increase of 4% over last year. This includes a record 310,000 sixth graders applying, 10% more than in 2020 and representing 43% of the UK’s 18-year-olds. There is also a 7% increase in mature applicants.
Peter Kyle, the shadow schools minister, said too many students faced uncertainty due to the government’s mismanagement of exams.
“Despite the destructive management of our education system by Gavin Williamson, the priority now is to ensure that every student takes these crucial steps to the best place to develop their talents,” he said.
“Every company, university and [further education] the college must act creatively and energetically to make sure this happens. We cannot let the talent of a generation fall victim to Gavin Williamson’s incompetence.