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EDITIONS
Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
A-level grades up again
students opening exam results
Results have improved again
This year's A-level students have outperformed their predecessors, with the pass rate going up again for the 18th year in a row.

The overall pass rate was 89.8% - with 18.6% of entries being awarded A grades.

The controversial new AS-levels are said to have been a great success - in spite of the row over their implementation.

In this first year of the new exam the pass rate was 86.6% with 17% of entries getting grade A.

Women do best

Women did even better than men in the new exam than they did in A-levels, now in their 50th year.

"We are very confident in saying that these qualifications have been a resounding success," said Paul Sokoloff, convenor of the Joint Council for General Qualifications, representing the five exam boards in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A-level headlines
50th year
At least 748,866 results
Pass rate up 0.7 to 89.8%
Women retain lead
New AS-level pass rate 86.6%
At least 794,117 AS results 'cashed in'
New Vocational A-level passes 54.5%
Ministers, exam boards and teachers' unions have again rejected suggestions that this year's rise means the exams are getting any easier.

England's School Standards Minister, Stephen Timms, said everyone should feel a real sense of achievement.

"This year I pay particular thanks to the teachers, lecturers and parents who have provided an outstanding level of support and encouragement to students, in particular to those in their first year of advanced study."

stephen timms
Stephen Timms: "Real achievement"
People should not forget the huge effort by examiners in marking a record number of papers, he added.

This year's results were broken down into England, Wales and Northern Ireland for the first time - revealing that students in Northern Ireland did best.

Nearly a quarter of students there got A grades, compared to 19.9% in Wales and 18.3% in England.

Click here for a results overview

These are the last set of results under the "old" A-level syllabus.

All change

Under the Curriculum 2000 changes which brought in the Advanced Subsidiary-levels, the first "A2" exams - the second half of the new-style A-level - will be taken next year.

AS-levels were widely supported in principle but brought howls of protest from schools, colleges, students and their parents at the increased workload involved.

The Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, ordered an urgent review by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the quango responsible for the system.

As a result, she has promised to reduce the number of papers students have to sit next year. A second phase of the review is ongoing.

Gender gap

Last year's published results showed the separate achievements of male and female students for the first time, and prompted considerable debate about why women had done better.

Most popular A-levels with women
English 13.5%
General studies 11.5%
Biology 8.1%
Psychology 6.1%
Maths 6.1%
Most popular A-levels with men
Maths 12.1%
General studies 12%
Physics 6.9%
English 6.5%
Biology 5.8%
The female lead seen last year of 0.6 percentage point at grade A has widened to 0.8. In overall passes the men have narrowed the gap a little from 2 to 1.9 percentage points.

But in the new AS-levels women outperformed men by 3.2 percentage points at grade A and 4.2 in all passes.

Mr Sokoloff said he was speculating but the gap had been attributed last year in large part to the fact that A-levels relied increasingly on course work as well as end-of-course exams, which seemed to favour women's more consistent approach to study.

"The major difference with the new ASs is that they are all unit-based and there is a higher proportion of course work," he said.

Ruth Lea, head of policy at the Institute of Directors, said: "I think exams are getting more girly. Girls are more conscientious than boys at doing coursework."

Most popular AS-levels with women
English 12.6%
Psychology 8.3%
Biology 8.2%
General studies 6.1%
Maths 5.2%
Most popular AS-levels with men
Maths 9.7%
Computing 7.4%
Physics 6.9%
General studies 6.7%
English 6.5%
The changes also introduce Vocational A-levels to replace Advanced GNVQs - with the last of the old and the first of the new being reported this year.

There was an 11.9% fall in the number of Advanced GNVQs taken - although more people took information technology.

In the new Vocational A-levels, with just 6,949 papers taken, the pass rate was 54.5%. The joint council says this is not bad - but it is concerned that only 1% of entries attracted a grade A.

There had been complaints from colleges - finding high numbers of failures among the candidates for the first exams - that the standard had been set too high.

Whereas the three units of an AS-level are assessed on the basis that students have had only one year of study, all six units of a Vocational A-level are assessed at the final standard.

This is being looked at as part of the government's review of the new exams. The Association of Colleges says the AS-levels have provided a good indication of how well students are doing after their first year of study, and it would "strongly support" a similar halfway stage in Vocational A-levels.

Not final

The provisional overview of the results published on Wednesday night includes all entries, not only those from 17 and 18 year olds, which had been collated by the joint council by last week.

Candidates were getting their individual results on Thursday.

Final school by school results, on which the league tables are based, are published towards the end of the year.

These will take account of any late results and any adjustments due to appeals. This year for the first time a candidate's marks can go down as well as up as a result of an appeal.

The GCSE results are due out in a week's time.


Back to main text

The table below shows an overview of the results and the gender gap - how much women's results exceeded those of men:

% of all entries
Grade A
Grades A-E
Gender gap Grade A
Gender gap Grades A-E
A-levels
England
91.7%
18.3%
89.6%
0.6%
1.9%
Wales
4.4%
19.9%
92.0%
3.0%
1.7%
NI
3.9%
24.6%
92.1%
3.1%
1.5%
AS-levels
England
93.2%
16.8%
86.4%
3.1%
4.3%
Wales
4.4%
16.5%
87.1%
4.0%
4.5%
NI
2.4%
28.0%
92.5%
3.4%
2.8%

There are full lists of subject-by-subject grades here:
 

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Sue Littlemore
"Once again girls have done better than the boys"
Have A-levels become feminised?
Angela Phillips, of Goldsmiths college and Chris Woodhead, former Chief Inspector of schools discuss
Exam results in the UK

GCSEs/GNVQs

A/AS-levels

Success stories

Features

Row over new exams

WATCH/LISTEN

TALKING POINT

Go to BBC Student EssentialsExam results?
Essential advice and information for students
See also:

30 Mar 01 | UK Education
26 Jun 01 | UK Education
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