Last Updated on August 23, 2023 by Karl Thompson
The A-level exam boards in England decided to smackdown the 2023 A-level results this year. They are now back to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.
For the top A and A* grades the trend looks like this:
- 2019: 25.2%
- 2021: 35.9%
- 2023: 26.5%
So a slight, but not significant increase in top A-level grades in 2023 compared to 2019.
This clearly demonstrates that the 2020 and 2021 results were fantasy results. This is unsurprising given that they were awarded by teachers. The 2022 results, based on pre-release exams, were merely a half way step back to this years. Last years results now seem as ridiculous as the 2020 and 2021 results. Clearly this was an attempt to maintain credibility in the exam system by not bringing back down the results too suddenly.
None of this is the fault of the students, it’s the fault of the people running the education system. You might even argue the government and exam boards did the best they good faced with the uncertainty of the pandemic.
The problem now is that this year’s cohort are the real victims of this uncertainty and flawed responses. They are now the ones with the relatively worse grades. They now face huge competition to get into scarce university places. And they are the ones that had their schooling disrupted just as much as the previous three years of students.
What a mess!
One saving grace
The one saving grace of all this is that we can probably regard this years exam results as valid JUST FOR THIS COHORT.
What I mean by this is that individuals who achieved A grades this year are probably better at exams than those who achieved C grades.
What you can’t do is compare this years results with 2020-2022. So we have a reliability problem!
- 2019 A-levels measured students’ ability to sit exams under ‘normal conditions’ compared to previous years.
- 2020 and 2021 measured how far teachers were prepared to take the p*** and give their students inflated grades based on their theories of what the maximum they could possibly achieve.
- 2022 measured student’s ability to sit exams based on having pre-release knowledge of some the material they’d be assed on.
- 2023 exam results measured students’ ability to sit exams under ‘normal conditions’ having had significant disruption to their schooling during the pandemic.
NB please note that by ‘better at exams’ that’s all I mean. A student’s ability to get an A* doesn’t necessarily mean they are more intelligent or a better potential employee than someone who gets a B grade.
The main reason for this (IMO) is that some students are better trained for exams than others. And exam training is a very narrow skill, intelligence more generally is a much broader concept.
The attainment gap has increased
The education attainment gap between private and state schools is now wider than it was before the pandemic. 47.4% of A-level entries from private schools were awarded A or A* grades compared to just 22% from state schools.
To my mind this suggests privately educated students have been more shielded from the disruptive effects of the pandemic over the last three years compared to state school students.
This makes sense given the material advantages these wealthy students have. Such as:
- smaller class sizes
- better access to online learning
- private tuition.
Some of these resources would have been put into exam training of course, a key part of ‘hothousing’ private school children.
The attainment gap by region has also increased
If we breakdown regions in quintiles by deprivation we find that 30.3% of A-levels in the least deprived regions were awarded A and above compared to only 22.2 in the most deprived regions.
This means parental wealth and income affects educational achievement more generally. Private schools just have a more extreme advantage at the very top end. (Private schools account for around 7% of pupils, so 1/3rd of the top quintile.)
Relevance to A-level sociology
Unfortunately this shows that material deprivation still affects educational achievement.
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Sources/ Find out More
The Guardian: Equality Depends on Education