A-level results day: Students battle for places through Clearing

A-level results day: Students battle for places through Clearing

Tens of thousands of students face Ucas Clearing hell today after share of A* and A marks fell 8% from 2021 when teacher-assessed exams inflated grades to record high… as desperate battle for 27,000 degree courses begins

  • Grades for pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had been expected to drop back from 2021 levels 
  • This year is part of a transition seeing marks aiming to reflect a midway point between last year and 2019
  • Almost 40% of students are thought likely to make use of the Clearing system to get a place on a course 
  • * Follow MailOnline’s liveblog of A-Level results day 2022 with all the latest updates by clicking here *

One in seven pupils get A*s and girls’ lead over boys narrows: Key data in this year’s A-level results

  • The proportion of candidates receiving top grades has fallen from last year, but is higher than before the Covid-19 pandemic. A total of 36.4% of entries were awarded either an A or A*, down from 44.8% in 2021 but up from 25.4% in 2019.
  • Around one in seven (14.6%) of entries received an A*. This is down from nearly one in five in 2021 (19.1%), but higher than the figure in 2019, which was 7.7%.
  • The overall pass rate (grades A* to E) was 98.4%. This is down from 99.5% in 2021 but up from 97.6% in 2019.
  • Some 82.6% received a C or above, down from 88.5% in 2021 but above the pre-pandemic figure of 75.9% in 2019.
  • The lead enjoyed by girls over boys in the top grades has narrowed. The proportion of girls who got A or higher this year was 37.4%, 2.2 percentage points higher than boys (35.2%). Last year, girls led boys by 4.8 percentage points (46.9% girls, 42.1% boys).
  • Boys have also narrowed the gap in the highest grade, A*. The proportion of girls who got A* was 14.8%, 0.4 percentage points higher than boys (14.4%). Last year the gap was 1.3 points (19.7% girls, 18.4% boys).
  • The most popular subject this year was maths. It had 95,635 entries, down 2.1% on 2021.
  • Psychology remains the second most popular subject. It had 78,741 entries, up 10.5% on 2021. Biology was once again the third most popular subject, with 71,979 entries, a rise of 2.7%.
  • English literature saw the biggest drop in candidates for a single subject with more than 1,000 entries, falling by 9.4% from 39,492 in 2021 to 35,791 this year.
  • Design and technology saw the biggest jump in candidates of any subject with more than 1,000 entries, rising by 14.3% from 9,979 to 11,404.
  • A total of 848,910 A-levels were awarded, up 2.9% on last year’s 824,718.

The battle among thousands of teenagers for university places through Clearing began today as A-level grades they received were down on the past two years but remained higher than pre-pandemic levels – while the lead of girls over boys in the top grades narrowed.

Grades for pupils across England, Wales and Northern Ireland had been expected to drop back from 2021 levels – when students were assessed by their teachers – as part of a transition year which saw marks aiming to reflect a midway point between last year and 2019.

Almost 40 per cent of students are thought likely to make use of the Clearing system to get a place on a course, with admissions service Ucas saying more than 27,000 are available as well as apprenticeship options. 

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) revealed today that the overall pass rate – the proportion of entries graded A* to E – fell by 1.1 percentage points from 99.5 per cent in 2021 to 98.4 per cent this year.

But this is up by 0.8 points from 97.6 per cent in the pre-pandemic year of 2019, which was the last time before this year that pupils had sat exams.

Entries receiving the top grades of A* and A are down 8.4 points from 44.8 per cent last year to 36.4 per cent – but up 11.0 points on 25.4 per cent in 2019. The 44.8 per cent figure last year was an all-time high. 

The figure for the highest grade, A*, is down year-on-year from 19.1 per cent to 14.6 per cent, but remains higher than in 2019 when it stood at 7.7 per cent.

And the proportion of entries graded A* to C dropped from 88.5 per cent in 2021 to 82.6 per cent this year, though it is up from 75.9 per cent in 2019.

There were a total of 848,910 A-level entries, up year-on-year by 2.9 per cent, compared with an increase of 2.4 per cent in the 18-year-old population.

Girls continued to outperform boys overall, with A* to E grades at 98.7 per cent for the former, compared with 98.1 per cent for the latter. However, the lead enjoyed by girls over boys in the top grades has narrowed. 

The proportion of girls who got A or higher this year was 37.4 per cent, 2.2 percentage points higher than boys (35.2 per cent). Last year, girls led boys by 4.8 points (46.9 per cent girls, 42.1 per cent boys). 

The number of A-level pupils in England who took three A-levels and achieved all A* grades is nearly three times what it was in 2019, rising to 8,570 compared with 2,785.

Meanwhile Ucas figures showed the number of students accepted on to UK degree courses has fallen this year.

A total of 425,830 people have had places confirmed – down 2 per cent on the same point last year, according to data published by the university admissions service.

Alice Shaw and Amelia Cropley react after reading their A-level results at Norwich School in Norfolk this morning

A students reacts while reading her A-level results at Norwich School today as pupils across the country find out their grades

Two young women hug each other after reading their A-level results at Norwich School in Norfolk this morning

Alice Shaw (right) hugging a woman after reading her A-level results at Norwich School in Norfolk this morning

Jemima Miller (centre) hugs a friend after reading her A-level results at Norwich School in Norfolk this morning

Holly Robinson hugs her friend after she receives her A-level results at Ffynone House School in Swansea this morning

Anna Austin (centre right) reacts when reading her A-level results at Norwich School in Norfolk this morning

Si Tong Xie looks at her A-level results at Ffynone House School in Swansea this morning

Amelie Bredican (left) and Mia Bartrum (right) react after reading their A-level results at Norwich School this morning

A group of students react while reading their A-level results at Norwich School in Norfolk this morning

In 2021, a record 435,430 people, from the UK and overseas, had places confirmed. This year’s figure is the second highest on record, and up 16,870 compared with 2019 when exams were last held.

Ucas said 19 per cent more 18-year-olds in the UK achieved a place at either their first or insurance choice this year, compared with 2019.

Ukrainian pupil, 18, at school in Cardiff gets Durham University place

A Ukrainian teenager at school in Wales has been accepted into Durham University after receiving his A-level results today – as his father fights on the frontline at home.

Zorian Tytych, 18, from Kyiv, studied for his A-levels at Cardiff Sixth Form College while his family remained in the war-torn country.

The teenager got four As in his A-levels in physics, maths, biology and chemistry today, and is now going to study biology at Durham University.

Zorian Tytych, 18, from Kyiv, studied for his A-levels at Cardiff Sixth Form College while his family remained in Ukraine

Alongside his studies, Mr Tytych has been doing voluntary translation work helping host families in Cardiff who have taken in Ukrainian refugees.

Before the war broke out, his parents were lawyers – but his father quickly joined the army and is still on the frontline on the Belarus border. His mother was forced to flee to Lviv in Western Ukraine for a month.

Mr Tytych said: ‘I live in the suburbs in west of Kyiv. Before the war started my mum and dad were lawyers. Dad was on the Ukrainian committee for Judicial Reform, taking things up to the European Union level.

‘He joined the military the day after the war started, signing up to the territorial defence and receiving basic training. He did this because he wanted to protect his home and support his country.

‘As the war has progressed, he has moved on; he has been assigned to the military and is now seeing active service on the front line. He is now on the Belarus border looking at routes, surveillance, communication and connecting the regiments and their communities.

‘My cousin is doing the same and is now based near Kherson where he is right in the thick of it and all the shelling. My uncle is currently in the recruitment process for joining the army.

‘I cannot think too deeply about my father as it would drive me mad with worry, but I am very proud of him. Also, I know he would feel it is a disgrace if he didn’t join the army.

‘But I cannot think about it too much as it just makes me really concerned. My mum was forced to evacuate to Western Ukraine where she went to Lviv and was hearing gunfire in the next street. She returned a month later when the Russians retreated from Kyiv.

‘As well as studying for my A-levels at Cardiff Sixth Form College, I have been volunteering, visiting the homes of British people in Cardiff who have taken in Ukrainian refugees. I am helping these families by translating documents for them, helping them with day-to-day tasks and being a friend to them. They need someone they can communicate with.’

Over the summer Mr Tytych joined the army’s training programme to become a translator.

He added: ‘Britain now has 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers receiving training from the British Army here in the UK and they need translators and helpers. Another of my friends, Mica at Cardiff, is also doing this with me and I am going to stay in the UK with my godmother who is Ukrainian but lives in London before university.’

Cardiff Sixth Form College principal Gareth Collier: ‘Zorian has been volunteering locally by helping Ukrainian families living in Cardiff feel at home, talking to them and providing translation which has really helped alleviate their concerns.

‘He did this during his very busy A-level revision period. We have received glowing reports from the host family who described him ‘as an example of an outstanding, selfless individual willing to help others where he can’.

‘He has been an active member of the school community and we are delighted that he is able to continue his education here in the UK with these tremendous results.’

The number of students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds to gain places on courses is 6,850 this year, up by 3,770 in 2019.

The admissions service said this translates to a narrowing of the gap between the most and least advantaged, with the ratio at 2.36 in 2019, 2.29 this year, and 2.34 in 2021.

International students account for 12.3 per cent of the total full-time undergraduate applicants accepted through Ucas this year, down from a high of 14.7 per cent in 2019.

Places for students from China, India and Nigeria are all up – increasing by 35 per cent, 27 per cent and 43 per cent respectively, Ucas said.

A total of 20,360 students did not get a place this year, Ucas said, down from 24,260 in 2019.

For the first batch of students to receive T-level results on Thursday, 370 – 71 per cent of applicants – have gained a place in higher education, the admissions service said.

T-level qualifications, which are broadly equivalent to three A-levels, offer students practical and knowledge-based learning at a school or college and on-the-job experience.

Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant said there are more than 27,000 courses in clearing, as well as a range of apprenticeship opportunities, for people who need to consider other options.

She said: ‘Today we have seen more students progress compared to the last time students sat exams.

‘This year has seen a growth in the number of 18-year-olds in the population, which will continue for the remainder of the decade, and creates a more competitive environment for students in the years to come.

‘While many will be celebrating today, there will be some who are disappointed.

‘My advice is to take advantage of the wide range of choices on offer, which includes over 27,000 courses in clearing, along with a range of apprenticeship opportunities.’

Kath Thomas, interim chief executive of the JCQ, said the results ‘represent a huge milestone’ in the country’s recovery from the pandemic.

Congratulating students, she said: ‘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. 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. As intended, these results are higher than the last set of summer exams in 2019, but lower than last year’s teacher-assessed grades.

‘This reflects the special arrangements that were put in place to support students, schools and colleges through another challenging year due to Covid.’

Dr Jo Saxton, chief regulator of Ofqual, the exams regulator in England, said: ‘I felt strongly that it would not have been right to go straight back to pre-pandemic grading in one go but accept that we do need to continue to take steps back to normality.

‘These results overall, coming as they do broadly midway between 2021 and 2019, represent a staging post on that journey.’

Pupils in Scotland received the results of their Higher examinations last week, with a similar trend in that the pass rate was down on last year but above pre-pandemic levels from 2019.

Education Secretary James Cleverly insisted today that the ‘majority’ of students will get their first choice university place, and are not being crowded out by a deferred cohort.

Asked by BBC Breakfast if deferred applications would lead to more competition for university places, James Cleverly said: ‘We should remember that there has been an increase in the number of courses, and as you say the number of 18-year-olds has been increasing, but so has the number of university courses.

‘Predominantly of course, students are competing with the other people that took exams this year. The number of deferments as a percentage of the overall applications is very low, something around 6.5 per cent from memory.

‘So the vast majority of places will be for students who have sat exams this year.’

Mr Cleverly said there had been a ‘tighter set of results than last year’ with the return of exams, but added: ‘We have got to remember that the majority of students will probably be getting into their first choice institution, that is incredibly good news.’

The Education Secretary also said there are no plans to raise the cap on the number of medical student admissions, but stressed that the Government is increasing NHS recruitment.

Brighton head boy turns down Cambridge place to study in the US 

Brighton College head boy Shaun Pexton, who got five A*s

The head boy at Brighton College has turned down an offer of a place at Cambridge University to continue his education across the pond.

Shaun Pexton achieved five A* grades in chemistry, physics, maths, further maths and history – and he is one of 16 pupils at the Sussex college choosing to study in America rather than the United Kingdom.

Mr Pexton has accepted an offer to study at Yale University and will be joined by two other Brighton College pupils, Kieran Malandain and Matias Paz Linares.

Last year Mr Pexton swam the Channel to raise money for mental health charity YoungMinds.

He said: ‘I spent my younger years in Hong Kong and Singapore, and I’m now moving on to Yale University in the US – but my roots will always be here in Brighton, and I know that my years at Brighton College will remain some of the best of my life.’

This year 60 per cent of grades at Brighton College were A*s – and 79 pupils achieved at least three A*s.

The last time exams were held, Brighton College was the top co-educational school in England, and was named UK School of the Decade by The Sunday Times.

College headmaster Richard Cairns said: ‘It was always going to be a challenge for this year’s cohort because they had no previous GCSE exam experience, so it is wonderful that they have risen to the challenge, smashing the record in 2019 when exams were last sat in person.

‘Nearly all Brighton College pupils have secured places at top universities. Twenty-four received Oxbridge offers but it is noticeable that there has been a real shift in emphasis towards the United States, with 16 heading off to North America.’

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme why the Government will not lift the cap, he said: ‘The NHS has always relied significantly on medical professionals from overseas, and I doubt that that will change any time in my lifetime.

‘We are recruiting more doctors and more nurses, we are training more homegrown medical talent. That is right. We are seeing those medical professional numbers go up, but, as I say, the nature of those incredibly highly technical vocational medical courses makes them different to other courses.’

He later said medical courses in other countries often have ‘huge’ fees for students, adding: ‘We have chosen to make a different decision. We don’t put the financial burden on the students themselves. 

‘The Government heavily subsidises courses because the courses themselves are important and that is the trade-off. The cap means we don’t impose the costs on the students themselves.’

Alfie Astley, 18, a pupil at Ark Putney Academy in South West London, said he was ‘very happy’ and ‘relieved it’s all over’ after receiving A* in geography, A in art and A in biology in his A-levels.

He is now going to Loughborough University, his first choice, to study graphic design, where he will become the first in his family to study for a degree.

Mr Astley said after opening his results envelope: ‘With Covid it was quite strange, in and out of school constantly and with the struggles of online learning.

‘It never really felt real until the last few months when the A-levels started and then it was a mad rush to be prepared and sit the exams, as there was a big question over whether we could actually sit the exams.

‘It made me feel a lot more uncertain about it all. My GCSEs were completely cancelled and we got teacher-assessed grades. It feels very great to be the first in my family to go to university.

‘I know that some of my friends feel a bit disappointed or frustrated; they’ve received offers but not getting into their first choice. I’m very grateful that I wasn’t negatively impacted by anything that I had no control over, such as grade inflation.’

This year’s grades aim to reflect a midway point between 2021 – when pupils were assessed by their teachers – and 2019.

Record numbers of students, including high numbers of disadvantaged students, are still expected to start university in September, the Department for Education said.

The results will be a testament to students’ resilience and hard work, as well as the efforts of their teachers, the Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said.

He added: ‘The class of 2022 has faced unprecedented disruption to their education and many have never taken public exams before due to the pandemic.

Sadia Ibrahim (left) with her results at Whalley Range High School today. She will study pharmacy at Manchester University

Freya Evans becomes emotional as she opens her A-Level results at The Bewdley School in Worcestershire today

Holly Robinson smiles after she receives her A-level results at Ffynone House School in Swansea this morning

A student is comforted by Good Morning Britain presenter Pip Tomson at William Wilberforce Sixth Form College in Hull today

Si Tong Xie smiles after she receives her A-level results at Ffynone House School in Swansea this morning

Two young women hug each other after reading their A-level results at Norwich School in Norfolk this morning

Sarim Rafique with his mother and father today after he receives his A-level results at Ffynone House School in Swansea

‘So, their achievements are a testament to their resilience and hard work throughout this period, and to their outstanding teachers and support staff who have helped them to achieve success.’

The school leaders’ union NAHT also paid tribute to pupils for their ‘resilient and tenacious’ approach to meeting the challenges they have faced.

Paul Whiteman, union general secretary, said: ‘They have experienced large amounts of disruption due to Covid throughout their courses and have worked hard with their school’s support to achieve today’s results.

‘For many students receiving results today, these will have been the first formal national exams they have ever taken.’

Russell Hobby, chief executive of Teach First, said the ‘sad truth’ is that those who do not achieve grades that reflect their true potential ‘will be disproportionately from poorer backgrounds’, describing the attainment gap in this country as one that remains ‘stark’.

Childline said its counselling sessions about exam results worries were higher every month since January compared to the same period in 2020/21, with the greatest number taking place in June.

Shaun Friel, the charity’s director, said: ‘Children have had to contend with a huge amount because of the pandemic and it’s no surprise that with exams returning to normal for the first time this year, we’re seeing a rise in anxiety levels.

‘We hear from lots of children who are concerned about their results and it’s really important they know that there is someone they can talk to who will listen to their worries. This could be a teacher, careers adviser, parent, carer or Childline.’

Meanwhile, staff at exam board AQA are taking part in strike action over the next few days and next week when GCSE results are due out.

Unison said the action is planned as part of a long-running dispute regarding pay and fire and rehire threats to staff, but AQA said it had ‘robust contingency plans in place to ensure that industrial action has no effect on results’. 

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