150820 A-Level A grades
  • One week later. It’s been a week since this year’s A-Level grades were released. And it’s taken me just as long to sift through all of the invididual PDFs of past results to produce the graph above. It shows the proportion of A-Level papers awarded either A* or A grades – or just A grades before 2010 – in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. It doesn’t include Scotland because they have a different exam system.
  • The inverted V-shape. The overall shape of the lines is worth noting. They’re at their lowest in 2001, before peaking around 2008 to 2010, and then settling down over the past few years. Or to use a specific example: 24.6 per cent of A-Level papers were awarded an A grade in Northern Ireland in 2001, rising to an incredible 35.9 per cent in 2010, then declining to 29.3 per cent this year. Did students become suddenly cleverer then suddenly stupider? Nope. This was grade inflation in action, followed by the Coalition Government’s efforts to contain it.
  • Pass rates in general. I’ve also done a graph showing overall pass rates, grades A* to E, which you can see by clicking here. It’s similar to the one above, although the declines since 2010 are much less marked. In fact, pass rates in England have actually risen since then. The toughening-up of the exam system may have affected the grades that students achieve when passing, but it hasn’t much affected whether they pass or not.
  • Northern Ireland’s triumph… Another thing that stands out from the graph at the top of this post is the distance between the different countries. Even this year, the gap between Northern Ireland and Wales is 6.2 percentage points. It has been a wide as 11.5. There are some subjects where Wales leads – for instance, maths and further maths – but generally that beautiful country is dragging behind. This is clear from this year’s A-Level results as much as from its performance in the recent international Pisa tests.
  • …and Wales’s despair. What explains Wales’s position? The prevalence of poverty among its hills? The emigration of good teachers to England? The Welsh Government’s opposition to schools reform? It’s probably all of these things and more. The basic point – which I’ve made plenty of times before – is that Wales is underachieving in many ways. They shouldn’t go unspoken.

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