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EDITIONS
Friday, 20 August, 1999, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
Exam record set again
students getting results
The waiting is finally over
The waiting is over for a quarter of a million A level candidates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, whose results are being delivered on Thursday.

More students than ever have been successful. There has been a small increase again this year in the number of pupils passing their examinations.

The percentage of candidates who achieved pass grades of any sort was 88.5, up 0.7 of a percentage point on last year (87.8%) - the same as the rise in the number getting the top A grade.

Figures issued by the Joint Council for General Qualifications show that fewer people got the lowest grades, D and E - and there was a drop in the number of failures from 5% to 4.6%.

There was a small increase in the number of top A grades, also up 0.7% to 17.5%.

'Reward for hard work'

The figures are provisional in that they are subject to any appeals candidates might mount, but usually this has little bearing on the final outcome.

The number of A and AS (Advanced Supplementary) level examinations taken this year was 852,042, compared with 863,281 in 1998. The Joint Council says the decrease reflects the 1.1% decline in the number of 18-year-olds in schools and colleges this year.

Exam Results '99
Figures confirm a continuing increase in entries in newer vocational A levels, with computing entries up 17%, media, film and TV studies up 5% and business studies up 2.5%.

There was a further decline in entries in traditional subjects like English (down 4%), French (down 10%), and history (down 5%).

Entries were also down in the sciences.

The Joint Council's Convenor, Dr Ron McLone, said: "Students and their teachers deserve congratulations for today's results. They are the reward for all the hard work put in over the last two years."

Dr McLone sought to forestall the annual, ritual accusation from some quarters that pupils keep doing better because exams keep getting easier.

He said the examining boards delivered "reliable, objective and consistent results" from one year to the next. There was a strict code of practice and stringent checks.

Not so good

"This is why A levels are seen as the hallmark of an excellent general education the world over and continue to be important to gain entry to university, training courses or employment," he said.

Student Choice '99

Education Minister Baroness Blackstone also defended the A level standard, saying that rigorous studies had provided clear evidence that standards had "remained steady over time".

"There are good reasons why A level pass rates have continued to improve. Young people understand that qualifications are increasingly important to their future careers," she said.

However the expected criticism did come from some quarters.

Ruth Lea, director of policy at the Institute of Directors, said: "We are not convinced that standards are rising at all."

'Not as testing'

She attributed the increase in the pass rate to the spread of modular courses, which now account for half of all A-level entries.

"These are not as testing as a three-hour exam on the whole of an A-level syllabus," she said.

She also said that university academics were now despairing of A lelves as reliable indicators of achievement in first year students.

But teachers' leaders called for an end to attacks on the standard of A levels.

David Hart, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the results "give the lie to the professional moaners who are always ready to criticise education standards".

And Doug McAvoy, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "No amount of speculation about dumbing down standards at A level should take away from the achievements of these young people and their teachers.

Fall in AS passes

"What improves year by year is the effort young people and their teachers make to achieve better and better results."

There was a small fall this year in the number of candidates passing AS levels, introduced in 1989 to broaden the sixth form curriculum. They are at the same standard as A levels but involve about half of the teaching and study time.

Dr McLone told journalists that the reasons for this were not clear. It might be that those opting to take them were weaker candidates in the first place.

The number choosing to do AS levels went up by 1,765, to 68,350.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Audio
Baroness Blackstone, Education Minister: "Standards are as high as they were 10 or 20 years ago"
Video
The BBC's Mike Baker reports: "Today's pass rates have reached record highs"
Audio
BBC Education Correspondent Sue Littlemore reports on what conclusions can be drawn from this set of results
Video
The BBC's Mike Baker : "The pass rate has increased"
Audio
Students from Oxfordshire explain what they are feeling
Audio
Baroness Blackstone, Education Minister: "Standards are as high as they were 10 or 20 years ago"
See also:

26 Aug 99 | exams99
19 Aug 99 | exams99
19 Aug 99 | Business
19 Aug 99 | exams99
19 Aug 99 | exams99
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