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Thursday, 15 August, 2002, 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK
A-level rush for university places
Students Michelle Esterkin, Dale Matthews and Hannah Chandler
Girls have increased the A-level "gender gap" over boys
University places are filling up fast as A-level results reach a record high.

The pass rate for this year's quarter of a million students has shot up by 4.5 percentage points, to 94.3%.

Key features
701,380 A-level entries
47,486 fewer than last year
pass rate 94.3%
up from 89.8%
girls 95.4%
boys 93.0%
995,404 AS-level entries
201,287 more than 2001
pass rate 86.5%

The good results mean most students will have gained the required grades for a place at university and competition for any remaining places is likley to be fierce.

Figures published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) show the number of accepted applicants for this year was up 5,685 - at 226,794 - on last year.

And two years ago, the number of accepted applicants at this point was just 192,140.

Results rise

The unprecedented one-year rise in exam results follows the first major overhaul of A-levels since their introduction 51 years ago.

The proportion of A grades was also up, from 18.6% to 20.7%.

The higher pass rate has already drawn the familiar criticism that the exams must be getting easier.

But exam chiefs insist standards are being maintained.

They talk of "driving failure out of the system" - and are predicting a 100% pass rate within a few years.

The Welsh exam board, WJEC, is ahead of the game: 98.2% of its entries passed.

But Chris Woodhead, former chief inspector of English schools watchdog, Ofsted, said the prospect that every student might pass made a mockery of the idea of exams to differentiate between pupils.

'AS effect'

Overall there was a drop this year of more than 6% in the number of A-level entries, from 748,866 to 701,380.

The rising pass rate and the fall in entries are attributed to the "AS effect" - with weaker candidates being weeded out under the new system and not carrying on to do a full A-level.

Student Wing Shan Lee celebrates her results
The rising pass rate is attributed to AS levels

The net effect is that about the same number of A-levels have been awarded.

However, school and college principals said many universities were now accepting a mixture of A and AS-levels in their selection criteria.

The number of AS-level entries has gone up by a quarter, from 794,117 last year - the first year they were taken - to 995,404.

Growing gender gap

The AS-level pass rate was almost unchanged: 86.5% compared with 86.6% in 2001.

The A-level "gender gap" has accelerated, with 95.4% of girls passing and 93% of boys - a difference of 2.4 points, up from 1.9 last year.

The Vocational A-levels attracted 32,246 entries - being new, there are no equivalent figures for last year.

The pass rate was 78.7%. For boys it was 74% and for girls, 83% - a nine point difference.

The figures are for England, Wales and Northern Ireland and are provisional - they could change slightly as a result of late entries and appeals.

Students get their individual results on Thursday. The school-by-school "league tables" are issued towards the end of the year.

Standards are being maintained and achievements are rising

John Milner, qualifications council

The overview of the results was issued on behalf of the exam boards by the Joint Council for General Qualifications.

Its convenor, John Milner, said this was "a fascinating year" with "the most exciting and important change since the A-level was introduced in 1951".

"Standards are being maintained and achievements are rising," he stressed.

Officials at the exams watchdog, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), have said they can foresee the pass rate reaching 100% within two or three years.


The head of the QCA, Sir William Stubbs, said: "All those who have passed have achieved an award of lasting value.

"Anyone who thinks passing an A-level - general or vocational - is easy is simply out of touch."

He added: "We will be reviewing this year's examinations outcomes overall and reporting to ministers in the autumn.

"We will consider whether fine-tuning is needed and look at further ways to ease the burden on schools and teachers while maintaining standards."

graph showing rising A-level pass rate
Numbers achieving all grades, A to E

The BBC's Mike Baker
"It is likely that more students than usual will be meeting their conditional offers"
Stephen Twigg MP, Education Minister
"This shows that investment in education is paying off"
Ruth Lea, Institute of Directors
"Young people seem to know less than they did 20 or 30 years ago"
Sir William Stubbs, Qualifications Authority chair
"For many young people who fail it is a jolly good learning experience"



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Row over standards

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15 Aug 02 | Education
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