Academic Year 2021/22

A level and other 16 to 18 results

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  1. Updated with link to the Transition Matrices tool

Introduction

This academic year saw the return of the summer exam series, after they had been cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, where alternative processes were set up to award grades. As part of the transition back to the summer exam series adaptations were made to the exams (including advance information) and the approach to grading for 2022 exams broadly reflected a midpoint between results in 2019 and 2021. 

The 16 to 18 performance measures reported in this provisional release for the 2021/22 academic year, and to be included on the Find School and College Performance Data website, have been affected by our commitment not to include results from qualifications awarded between January 2020 and August 2021 (see section ‘Changes to the data in 2021/22’). 

Throughout this release, comparisons are made with both 2021, the most recent year, and 2019, because it is most meaningful to compare to the last year summer exams were sat. Given the unprecedented change in how A level and vocational and VTQ grades were awarded in 2020 and 2021, as well as changes to the grade boundaries and methods of assessment for 2021/22, users need to exercise caution when considering comparisons over time, as they may not reflect changes in student performance alone.


Headline facts and figures - 2021/22

  • Average Point Score (APS) per entry for all level 3 cohorts is lower compared to 2020/21:  A level, -2.8 ppts; applied general, -0.9 ppts; tech level, - 1.2 ppts. However, attainment remains higher compared to 2018/19: A level, +5.0ppts; applied general, +3.5 ppts; tech level +2.2 ppts. [An increase of 10 points is equivalent to an increase in one full grade]. This follows Ofqual’s announcement in September 2021 that 2022 will be a transition year where the aim was for exam results to broadly reflect a midway point between 2021 (TAG grades) and 2019 (the last year all students sat exams).
  • The trend for falling average attainment across level 3 cohorts in 2021/22 compared to 2020/21 was observed across institution types generally (when grouped into state-funded schools, independent schools, sixth form colleges, and ‘Other FE sector colleges’) with the exception of applied general attainment in sixth form colleges and independent schools which increased in 2021/22 (+ 0.2 ppts and + 0.7 ppts respectively).
  • The disadvantage gap (between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students) is at its widest level for all exam cohorts (A level, applied general, tech level, technical certificates) since disadvantage measures began in 2016/17.
  • Gender gaps in favour of female students in average attainment at A level, applied general, and tech level have narrowed in 2021/22 compared to 2020/21; average attainment had increased more for female students than males with the alternative Centre Assessment Grade (CAG) and Teacher Assessed Grade (TAG) awarding processes in 2019/20 and 2020/21 compared with 2018/19.

Given the unprecedented change in the way results were awarded in the summers of 2020 and 2021, as well as the changes to methods of assessment for 2021/22, users need to exercise caution when considering comparisons over time, as they may not reflect changes in pupil performance alone. 

The changes seen in the headline statistics likely reflect the changes in methodology for awarding grades and in calculating the measures, rather than demonstrating a difference in standards.
 

Explore data and files

All data used in this release is available as open data for download


Open data

Browse and download individual open data files from this release in our data catalogue


Guidance

Learn more about the data files used in this release using our online guidance


Create your own tables

You can view featured tables that we have built for you, or create your own tables from the open data using our table tool


All supporting files

All supporting files from this release are listed for individual download below:

List of all supporting files

COVID-19: exam assessment in 2021 and 2022

Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the summer exam series was cancelled in both 2020 and 2021, and alternative processes set up to award grades. Throughout this release, comparisons are made with both 2021, the most recent year, and 2019, because it is most meaningful to compare to the last year summer exams were sat.

A/AS and vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs)

In summer 2021 students were awarded A/AS grades based on an assessment by their teachers using a range of available evidence. Students were only assessed on the content they had been taught. In 2021 some VTQ grades were decided using teacher-assessed grades, others using normal assessment routes, and some through adapted assessment such as remote invigilation.

A/AS exams returned in 2022 and adaptations were made to exams (including advance information) and the approach to grading for 2022 exams broadly reflected a midpoint between results in 2019 and 2021. 

The diversity of vocational qualifications meant that Ofqual did not prescribe a single approach to adaptations, so Awarding Organisations (AOs) had flexibility to choose how to adapt their assessments. However, Ofqual’s regulatory framework requires AOs as far as possible to ensure VTQ learners were not disadvantaged nor advantaged compared with their A level peers when setting standards.

For further information on the process to award grades in 2021 and 2022 see the following links:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/awarding-qualifications-in-summer-2021/awarding-qualifications-in-summer-2021

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/guidance-for-centres-awarding-vtqs-in-2021-and-2022

Reporting of 2022 results by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) and Ofqual

As happens every year on A level results day (18 August for summer 2022 results) JCQ published data on A level entries for qualifications awarded in summer 2022, and for each subject the distribution of grades awarded (with data for the previous summer for reference): https://www.jcq.org.uk/examination-results/

The data published by JCQ can be expected to show the same broad patterns as the underlying data published in this statistical release ‘Entries and results – A level and AS by subject and student characteristics (single academic year). However, the coverage of the data is different: JCQ data covers all A level entries in the UK by people of all ages. Data in this statistical release covers exam entries by 16 to 18 year olds in schools and colleges in England, and includes breakdowns by a wide range of student characteristics.

In addition, Ofqual also routinely publish data on results day: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/guide-to-as-and-a-level-results-in-england-summer-2022

Changes to the data from 2021/22

Data excluded from 2021/2021 measures due to alternative assessment arrangements in 2020 and 2021

We have committed not to include results of qualifications achieved between January 2020 and August 2021 in school and college performance measures on Find Schools and College Performance Data website, given the alternative assessment arrangements used to award those grades.

For consistency, when calculating 16 to 18 performance measures for 2021/2022 in this statistical release, data will only include entries and grades from qualifications awarded in the 2021/2022 academic year, with the exception of AS and A level qualifications taken as part of the extraordinary autumn 2021 examination series which are also excluded.

However results from qualifications routinely offered in the autumn of 2021 that would usually be approved for reporting, such as vocational and technical qualifications taken in autumn 2021, will be included even if some of the VTQ constituent unit-level grades were awarded between January 2020 and August 2021 via Centre Assessment Grade, Teacher Assessed Grade, or another process.

The table below shows the impact at national level of excluding these data, by comparing the number of students and headline attainment measures for each cohort.

The impact on A level student numbers is modest. It is greater for students entering vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs), who are more likely to enter qualifications over multiple years. It should be noted that students may have results from multiple years including 2021/22. In this case the student is included in this data but some of their results are excluded. 

The technical certificate cohort has been substantially impacted by this change, as students are often not triggered for reporting in the same year as they complete the qualification.

Smaller cohorts in 2021/22, do not necessarily translate into impacts on attainment. Nationally, the impact on A level Average Point Score (APS) is minimal (1/200th of a grade) with slightly larger changes for the level 3 vocational and technical qualifications. 

 A levelApplied generalTech levelTechnical certificate
Number of studentsPublished data284,614118,43227,074749
inc. TAG and CAG289,414129,71932,0117,985
Average point score (APS)Published data38.7731.8830.605.81
inc. TAG and CAG38.7231.3829.815.75
Impact of the changeNumber of students-2%-9%-15%-91%
APS+0.05+0.50+0.79+0.06

Checking exercise

The 2021/22 academic year saw the return of the school and college checking exercise, after this was suspended in the two previous years. This release is based on provisional data, meaning that any approved result amendments requested will not yet have been applied, nor will some students have been removed from a school or colleges results (for example because the student wasn’t on roll, or has not yet completed 16-18 study) or added (where flagged by school or college as having completed 16-18 study despite not being triggered).

Changes from the checking exercise will be reflected in revised data to be published in February 2023.

Other changes for the 2021/22 release

  • English and maths progress measures will not be published in this statistical release until these measures return to Find school and college performance data website (likely 2024/25, as set out in 16 to 18 accountability headline measures: technical guide, due to the impact of excluding CAG/TAG grades on this performance measure).
  • Similarly, 16 to 18 value-added measures, which would rely on KS4 prior attainment including some data from summer 2020, continue not to be published in 2021/22. Value-added measures will return as soon as possible, which will be for the 2023/24 academic year at the earliest; further details are included in the technical guide.
  • Breakdowns of performance measures by prior attainment, usually published in spring with the Retention update have been brought forward to the provisional release along with other breakdowns by student characteristics. Note, we distinguish between the use of prior attainment data nationally to breakdown measures by student characteristics in this statistical release and their use to calculate performance measures that will be published for individual schools and colleges on Find School and College Performance Data.
  • SEN Provision contains additional breakdowns by SEN types for the first time in national level data at 16 to 18. 
  • Additional ‘bivariate’ data giving a breakdown of headline attainment and disadvantage status in combination with other characteristics are available for the first time. 

Changes continuing from the 2020/21 release

  • Characteristic breakdowns usually published in the revised update have been brought forward to the provisional release. This is a permanent change.
  • The rules for determining when students reach the end of their 16-18 study changed in 2020/21 and students can no longer be triggered solely due to spending two years in the same school or college. The impact of this change 2020/21 data was to reduce the number of students in each cohort, with vocational and technical qualifications impacted most. In 2021, student numbers returned to pre-rule change levels, as expected.

 

Full details of the trigger change are set out in the section ‘Changes introduced in the 2020/21 release’ in the  Quality and Methodology documentation.

Introduction: students and results reported in these statistics

Unless stated otherwise statistics reported here refer to 16 to 18 year olds in England:

  • who reached the end of their 16 to 18 study in 2021/22. Students typically spend either two or three years in the 16 to 18 phase. (Usually, attainment includes results from qualifications entered during all those years. However, this year, attainment excludes results from qualifications that were awarded between January 2020 and August 2021).
  • who entered qualifications approved for reporting in 2022 school and college performance tables, set out in the 16 to 18 qualifications, discount codes and point scores guidance.

Qualifications are grouped into A level (subset of Academic), Applied General, and Tech Level exam cohorts at level 3, and Technical Certificates at level 2. Students can be reported in more than one exam cohort. 

Student numbers by cohort

Students are included in this statistical release when they reach the end of their 16 to 18 study in schools and colleges in England. As set out in the Methodology guidance, the rules for determining when that happens changed in 2020/21, and students are no longer triggered after spending two years in the same school or college.

The impact of the trigger change in 2020/21 was to reduce the number of students in each cohort, with vocational and technical qualifications impacted most. As expected, student numbers have generally returned to their pre-rule change level in 2021/22, with student numbers in all level 3 cohorts being higher than in 2019/20 and 2020/21.

Results for qualifications awarded between January 2020 and August 2021 have been excluded from the data. The technical certificate cohort has been substantially impacted by this change, as students are often not triggered for reporting until they turn 18, often a year or two after they complete the qualification. More detail is provided in the section ‘Changes to the data in 2021/22’, where in particular excluding CAG and TAG grades reduced reported technical certificate student numbers by 91%.

The growth in the number of students entered applied general and tech level qualifications in 2021/22 approved for reporting in performance measures reflects the removal of funding approval from 1 August 2020 for pre-existing qualifications which were running in parallel with newer redeveloped qualifications. Prior to that numbers had been increasing more slowly following big falls in 2017/18 when qualifications were reformed. The number of students in the A level cohort, which includes students who only enter AS levels, has increased after several years of decline. (The previous decline reflected fewer AS level entries following the now completed A level reform to decouple A and AS levels.) 

The overall growth in student numbers may also be partly attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some students reported here completed their pre-16 study in 2019/20 where higher grades were awarded via Centre Assessment Grades. These higher grades resulted in greater numbers of students applying for post-16 places and may have shifted some students away from level two technical certificates and into level 3 qualifications. There were also fewer alternative options available for these students in terms of apprenticeships and other employment opportunities  (Key stage 4 destination measures showed that a smaller proportion of students who completed key stage 4 in 2019/20 progressed to sustained apprenticeship or employment outcomes in 2020/21).

Disadvantage

Disadvantaged students are all students who were in receipt of pupil premium when they were in their last year of KS4. 

Disadvantage measures do not include students who were not reported at the end of KS4 – for example, because they came from overseas. Students who were known to be at independent schools in their last year of KS4 are treated as non-disadvantaged.

Disadvantage measures cover students in state-funded schools or colleges.

23.6% of state-funded students, at the end of 16 to 18 study, were recorded as having disadvantaged status in 2021/22. The percentage of students examined in vocational and technical qualifications was generally in line with this. (Applied general 23.1%, tech level 23.0% and technical certificate 25.4%). Disadvantaged students were underrepresented at A level with 14.3% of the cohort identified as having disadvantaged status. 

Prior attainment

Prior attainment is a measure of the average points attained per qualification at Key Stage 4. Simple discounting rules apply, with the best result in any subject used when calculating the average point score at KS4. Any GCSE resits or additional qualifications gained during 16 to 18 are ignored. For the vast majority, prior attainment is between 0-9 reflecting the range of possible grades at GCSE (where 9 is the highest grade).

[Note, whilst results from January 2020 to August 2021 are removed from calculation of performance measures, for the purposes of this statistical release they will be retained when calculating a student’s prior attainment to explain outcomes in performance measures, in the same way that outcomes nationally are broken down by gender, disadvantage, etc].

In 2021/22, 18.7% of students at the end of their 16 to 18 study had the highest prior attainment (grade 7+). The large majority of students with the highest prior attainment choose to study at least one A/AS level (94.9%). High attainers now make up 36.1% of the A level cohort compared to 4.7% of the applied general and 3.8% of the tech level cohort. The proportion of students with the highest prior attainment has increased year on year for each cohort since 2019/20 (from when KS4 prior attainment has been calculated in this release).

27.3% of students at the end of 16 to 18 study in 2021/22 had the lowest prior attainment (from grade 0 up to grade 4). The proportion of students with the lowest prior attainment has decreased year on year for each exam cohort since 2019/20.

This change in the distribution of prior attainment will in part reflect year on year grade increases at KS4 and in part reflect that the majority of students at the end of 16-18 study in 2021/22 will have completed KS4 in 2019/20, and whose GCSE prior attainment will include Centre Assessment Grades (CAG).

Attainment: Average point score (APS) per entry and average result by exam cohort

Summary

These figures give the average points and average result that students achieved throughout their 16 to 18 study. Results awarded between January 2020 and August 2021 have been excluded from this data. (See the section ‘Changes to the data in 2021/22). While the majority of results come from the student’s final year of study (in particular for A levels), a small number of results awarded prior to January 2020 are included. 

Points are given to all qualifications so we can compare qualifications of different size and grading structures. A maximum of 60 points are available for A level, 50 points for applied general and tech level and 8 points for technical certificates. More information on points, APS bands and grade boundaries can be found in the technical guide for 16 to 18 accountability measures (from page 27). 

In September 2021 Ofqual announced that 2022 will be a transition year where the aim was for exam results to broadly reflect a midway point between 2021 and 2019. Consequently, the average results are lower in 2021/22 across all level 3 cohorts than in 2020/21. 

A level programmes have seen the largest decrease (2.8 points) compared to 0.9 pts for applied general and 1.2 pts for tech level. This is as expected due to the larger increases seen in A level grades between 2018/19 and 2020/21 relative to the vocational and technical qualifications. Technical certificates have seen a small increase (0.2) in the average points score. However, interpretation of this increase is undermined by the drop in cohort numbers by more than three quarters.

For all cohorts, the average result remains the same as in 2020/21.

Attainment: APS per entry and average result by region and local authority

At A level, regions in the South and East tend to do better (i.e. South East, London, East of England consistently in the top 3 or 4 in the last 4 years), with regions in Midlands and North performing less well. However, at applied general the situation is somewhat reversed, with the South East and East of England consistently ranking in the bottom 3, including London in the last 2 years.

Regional rankings are more variable for tech levels (likely reflecting the smaller total number of tech level entries).

Attainment: APS per entry and average result by student characteristics

Average results by disadvantage status

The 2021/22 disadvantage gap has increased in comparison to last year across all exam cohorts except for applied general students, where the gap has remained level. For the level 3 exam cohorts, the average APS score has decreased for both disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students, however for A level and tech level students, the decreases were larger for disadvantaged students.  Across all exam cohorts, the disadvantage gap is at its widest point since the measure was introduced in 2016/17 (NB, this statistical release contains data for the last 5 years back to 2017/18, but disadvantage data was first published based on 2016/17 revised data).

To get a fuller picture on the impact of disadvantage status, this data should be looked at in conjunction with data on retention rates (the percentage of students who have completed their main study programme at a provider). In 2020/21, 94.3% of non-disadvantaged A level students were retained and assessed compared to 88.5% of disadvantaged students. Students are only included in the average point score measure if they are entered for examination i.e. if they are retained and assessed. More information on 2020/21 retention can be found in the 2020/21 version of this statistical release. An update to this statistical release with 2021/22 retention figures will be released in March 2023. 

Average results by gender

For the level 3 exam cohorts, both female and male students saw a drop in average attainment in 2021/22 when compared to 2020/21. The decrease was larger for female students than male students, which has resulted in a narrowing of the gender gap compared to last year.

When compared to 2018/19, the gender gap is slightly wider for A level students, but slightly narrower for applied general students in 2021/22. For tech level students the gender gap has reversed such that in 2018/19 it was in favour of males, but for following years it has been (and remains) in favour of females.

The technical certificate cohort gender gap had remained approximately level since 2018/19 at 0.1 ppts, however this year there has been a larger increase in average attainment for male students, which in turn has reversed the gender gap in favour of males to -0.1ppts.

The gender gap for the percentage of students achieving at least 2 A levels has been continuously decreasing for the past 5 years, falling from 5.3% in 2017/18 to 0.9% in 2021/22 in favour of female students.

Average results by ethnicity

Black or Black British students attained the lowest average result across all cohorts in 2021/22. At A level, Black or Black British students’ attainment was almost a full grade lower than that of Chinese students. The rank order of attainment by ethnicity has remained almost unchanged at A level through the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes to the grading processes.

Prior attainment 

Typically, the higher the average KS4 prior attainment, the higher the average outcome at the end of 16 to 18 study, regardless of the programme of study. 

The attainment gap between students with the highest and lowest prior attainment has remained stable throughout different grading processes since 2019/20 (when this prior attainment data is available). The attainment gap at A level is around 25 pts (or 2.5 grades) and at applied general and tech level is around 19 pts (or just under 2 grades).

Average results for other student characteristics

Breakdowns of other student characteristics, including SEN provision, first language and more, are available in the featured tables and create your own tables sections of this statistical release. 

Attainment: APS per entry and average result by institution type

Average point score and average result for A level by institution type 

The A level average point score has decreased across all institution types for 2021/22 when compared to 2020/21, however they all remain higher than their 2018/19 average point scores. Sixth form colleges had the smallest decrease this year, falling by -1.3ppts. Further detail is provided in the table for different types of state-funded schools showing some variation in the size of the decreases in A level average point score seen this year, though note data for some institution types are based on small numbers of students. 

Of the major institution-type groups, all independent schools have the highest percentage of students achieving two or more A levels in 2021/22 with 94.2%. They also had one of the largest increases in this measure from 2020/21, rising by 2.0ppts. Other FE sector colleges have continued their upward trend for the percentage of students achieving two or more A levels, rising by 1.3ppts from 2020/21 and by 20.9ppts from 2018/19.

Average point score and average result for VTQ by institution type 

For 2021/22, the tech level average point score has lowered across all institution types compared to last year. Sixth form colleges and all independent schools had the largest decreases at -3.6ppts and -2.3ppts respectively.

Conversely, both sixth form colleges and independent schools had increased attainment in applied general point score in 2021/22 compared to 2020/21 (but ‘Other FE sector colleges’ and state-funded schools continued the general trend in lower attainment in 2021/22 seen in the A level and tech level quals).

As discussed in the ‘Changes to the data from 2021/22’ section, the removal of CAG and TAG grades has had a significant impact on the size of the technical certificate cohort and so student numbers are generally low across most institution types. The majority of technical certificate students were reported at ‘other FE sector’ colleges, where the average point score has remained relatively stable in comparison to last year.

Attainment: APS per entry by disadvantage in combination with other characteristics

This year we have introduced a new data file to this statistical release called ‘Attainment and other performance measures – student characteristics and disadvantage status’. This data file gives more detail about disadvantaged students by breaking down the disadvantaged status of students by other student characteristics. In breaking down the data in this way we hope to be able to better identify how student characteristics interact. The following sections show some illustrative analyses.

Disadvantage and prior attainment

The distribution of disadvantaged students is uneven across the prior attainment bands. At A level 9.3% of students in state-funded institutions with the highest prior attainment (grade 7+) have disadvantaged status, while 27.9% with prior attainment from grade 0 up to grade 4 have disadvantaged status.

At A level the disadvantage gap for students with the lowest prior attainment was 1.3 pts in 2021/22 or just over 1/10th of a grade. The gap increased to 2.8 pts for A level students with prior attainment from grade 4 up to grade 7 and 3.5 pts (or just over 1/3 of a grade) for students with the highest prior attainment. 

The increase in the overall A level disadvantage gap was driven by the increase in the disadvantage gap for students with the highest prior attainment. (Up 0.8pts from 2.7pts in 2020/21). There was a small increase for those with prior attainment of grade 4 up to grade 7 (up 0.2pts from 2.5pts) and the gap stayed steady for those with prior attainment of grade 0 up to grade 4.

Disadvantage and other student characteristics

Across all exam cohorts (A level, applied general, tech level and technical certificate), non-disadvantaged students with English as their first language obtained higher average results than students with a first language other than English. However, the reverse is true for disadvantaged students, here students with a first language other than English achieved higher average results in 2021/22. This has been an ongoing trend since 2018/19 for students in level 3 cohorts.

At A level and applied general, female students obtained higher average results than their male peers within each disadvantage status. This gender gap is reversed at tech level for disadvantaged students, and both disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students at technical certificate where male students have higher attainment. The disadvantage gap is wider for female students in 2021/22 for all level 3 cohorts. At applied general, disadvantaged female students achieved a higher average result than non-disadvantaged male students. 

Disadvantaged Black or Black British students attained the lowest average results in 2021/22 of any ethnicity across level 3 cohorts. Non-disadvantaged Black or Black British students also attained lower average results than their non-disadvantaged peers. White students had the biggest disadvantage gaps (of students with known ethnicity) across level 3 cohorts.

Attainment in 21/22: A level grade distribution by characteristics and institution type

Summary

Data in this section covers A level entries and results for all students aged 16-18 at the start of the respective year. As such it is not impacted by the change in the ‘trigger’ rules, introduced in 2020/21, that determined when a student had reached the end of 16-18 study.  It is also not impacted by removing CAG and TAG grades from data for 2021/22.

The graph below shows the distribution of A level grades for students aged 16 to 18 for each academic year. Overall, the proportion of entries achieving top grades (A*/A/B) has decreased in comparison to 2020/21 but remains higher than 2018/19. 

In 2021/22, 14.6% of awarded grades were at A*. This is an increase of 6.8ppts from 2018/19, but a decrease of 4.4ppts from 2020/21. The percentage of entries achieving A*-A grades is now 36.1%, which similarly corresponds to an increase of 10.7ppts compared to 2018/19 but a decrease of 8.0ppts from 2020/21. As previously noted however, year on year comparisons cannot be interpreted as students achieving at a higher standard. Where achievement gaps alter in 2019/20 and 2020/21 compared to previous years, it might reflect the different process by which grades were awarded across these years.

A level results by gender

Overall, in 2021/22 both male and female students were more likely to be awarded the higher A level grades (A*/A/B) than in 2018/19 but less likely than in 2020/21.

Across the top A* and A*-A grades the gender gap has decreased in comparison to 2020/21. Female students continue to be more likely to achieve these grades, which has been the trend for the last three years (since 2019/20) when a reversal of the gender gap was observed. At A*-B the gap between female and male student achievement had been continuously increasing since 2017/18, however this year the gender gap has reduced from 7.0ppts to 4.7ppts from 2020/21 and 2021/22 respectively.

A level results by disadvantage

From 2018/19 to 2020/21, the proportion of non-disadvantaged and disadvantaged students achieving A* had continuously increased, however there had been bigger increases for non-disadvantaged students resulting in a widening of the disadvantage gap. This year, both the percentage of non-disadvantaged and disadvantaged students achieving A* has fallen by 3.4ppts and 2.9ppts respectively. This means the disadvantage gap has narrowed slightly for this year at this top grade.

At A*-A, a similar widening of the disadvantage gap has been observed since 2018/19, however this year the gap has continued to widen, rising from 12.6ppts in 2020/21 to 13.2ppts in 2021/22.

A level grades by institution

The proportion of entries awarded A* grades at A level has decreased across nearly all the main institution types for 2021/22 compared to 2020/21, with independent schools observing the largest decrease of 11.1ppts. The exception is sixth form colleges, where the proportion of A* grades has remained level with last year. The entry proportions at A*-A and A*-B have fallen across all institution types compared to last year.

Compared with 2018/19, the proportion of entries achieving top grades (A*, A*-A, A*-B) has increased across all the main institution types (state-funded schools, independent schools, sixth form colleges, and ‘Other FE sector colleges’). 

Attainment in 21/22: A level grade distribution by STEM subject

Data is this section covers A level entries and results for all students aged 16 to 18 at the start of respective year. As such it is not impacted by the change in the ‘trigger’ rules, introduced in 2020/21, that determined when a student had reached the end of 16 to 18 study. It is also not impacted by removing CAG and TAG grades from data for 2021/22.

STEM subjects here are defined as: biology, chemistry, physics, maths, further maths, and computing.

A level grades in STEM subjects

For 2021/22, the proportion of students achieving top grades (A*, A*-A, A*-B) in STEM subjects compared to 2020/21 has fallen. At A*, the largest decrease was in further maths (8.6ppts) and the smallest decrease was in physics (4.8ppts).

The STEM subjects have generally seen large increases in the proportion of students achieving top grades when compared to 2018/19. The largest increase at A* was further maths rising by 15.7ppts, and the smallest increase was in biology at 6.3ppts. The A*-A grade boundary also observed large increases in the proportion of entries achieving these grades, ranging from computer science (17.2ppts increase) to maths (6.6ppts increase).

STEM subjects by gender

The proportion of overall entries in STEM subjects from female students is unchanged since 2018/19 at 44%, though there remains considerably fewer female entries in computer science, further maths, and physics than in other STEM subjects.

In 2018/19 male students were more likely than female students to achieve A* grades in four out of the six STEM subjects (higher numbers in chemistry, physics, maths, further maths; lower in biology and computer science). In 2020/21 this switched such that female students were more likely to achieve grade A* in all STEM subjects except chemistry. In 2021/22 this has reversed back to the pattern observed in 2018/19, where male students are again more likely to achieve A* grades in chemistry, physics, maths, and further maths.

Entries and pass rates in English and maths qualifications below level 3

This section replaces one that usually describes outcomes in the English and maths progress accountability measures. These are not being created in 2021/22 in Find School and College Performance Data due to the impact of excluding CAG and TAG grades on this measure (set out in more detail in the 16 to 18 accountability measures: technical guide).

These alternative data have been published as part of this statistical release since 2015/16. Coverage is all entries and outcomes in below level 3 English and maths qualifications for students aged 16 to 18 at the start of the respective year. Unlike data based on students at the end of 16-18 study, it means these data are not impacted by the trigger change in 2020/21, and not impacted by removing CAG and TAG grades from data for 2021/22.

It also means a student here can be reported in successive years, for example at age 16 in 2019/20, at age 17 in 2020/21, and at age 18 in 2021/22 if they entered exams in each year. 

The tables below focus on GCSEs, and Functional Skills qualifications at level 2, level 1 and Entry level which make up the large majority of English and maths qualifications entered below level 3 (though outcomes for Other level 2, level 1, and Entry Level qualifications are available via the ‘Explore data and files’ section). 

Fewer students are entering below level 3 maths and English qualifications

Most students aged 16 to 18 enter below level 3 English and maths qualifications because they did not achieve a GCSE pass at grade 9-4 or equivalent during key stage 4, and so are required to continue to study those subjects under Condition of Funding rules (CoF).

The overall fall observed in the number of below level 3 entries across both English and maths in GCSEs and Functional Skills is consistent with data published in Key Stage 4 performance showing an increasing proportion of pupils achieving grades 4 or above in English and maths GCSE during key stage 4 (increasing from 59.8% in 2018/19 to 67.1% in 2020/21) – and so not being required to study below level 3 English or maths during the 16-18 phase.

An additional factor explaining the big fall in entries at GCSE from 2019/20 to 2021/22 (-17% English, -12% maths) is the higher proportion of GCSE entries in 2019/20 and 2020/21 during the 16-18 phase that resulted in a grade 9-4 pass, when grades were awarded through the CAG and TAG processes, because once a student achieves a 9-4 GCSE pass during 16-18 they no longer have to continue studying English and/or maths the following year.

Achievement of Level 2 English and maths through GCSE and Functional Skills qualifications

Many more age 16-18 students enter GCSEs (a level 1/level 2 qualification) than are entered for Functional skills (distinct qualifications at level 2, level 1 and Entry level).

Overall pass rates are broadly comparable at GCSE and L1 and L2 Functional skills. Given that the prior attainment distributions are similar at GCSE and level 2 functional skills (see table below), we might have expected to see a higher level 2 pass rate (grades 9-4) at GCSE. Although it is difficult to make direct comparisons due to range of grades available within the GCSE qualification.

Qualification KS4 Prior AttainmentEnglish entries in 2021/22 Proportion of English entries at prior attainment bandmaths entries in 2021/22Proportion of maths entries at prior attainment band
All GCSEsPriors 7+4510.3%2870.2%
Priors 4 to < 713,7549.8%33,66218.8%
Priors 0 to < 4111,34579.1%130,71773.2%
Unknown prior attainment15,20310.8%13,9467.8%
L2 Functional SkillsPriors 7+40.1%50.1%
Priors 4 to < 73275.4%43210.5%
Priors 0 to < 44,58675.4%2,94771.6%
Unknown prior attainment1,16319.1%73117.8%
L1 Functional SkillsPriors 7+100.1%110.1%
Priors 4 to < 72112.3%4444.5%
Priors 0 to < 45,96964.3%6,24463.5%
Unknown prior attainment3,08833.3%3,13131.9% 

All level 1 and level 2 qualifications have had decreases in their pass rates in 2021/22. Mathematics qualifications have seen much larger decreases than English across all qualifications. 

Maths L2 functional skills decreased by 21.9 ppts to 63.0% (12.7 ppts fall in English to 79.8%). Maths L1 functional skills decreased by 10.3 ppts to 85.3% (English fall, 3.3ppts to 93.5%). For maths GCSE the overall pass rate (grade 9-1) decreased by 5.8ppts to 84.9% (English decreased by 3.7 ppts to 85.7%) and the level 2 pass rate (grade 9-4) also decreased 16.7ppts to 15.2% for Maths and 14.1ppts to 25.4% for English

In contrast, at KS4 the English language GCSE level 2 pass rate (grade 9–4) fell by more than maths. English language fell by 4.0 ppts and maths by 3.1ppts between 2020/21 and 2021/22.

Pass rates in English and maths at level 2 by institution type

GCSE entries by students at independent schools are most likely to pass at level 2, but it should be noted that Condition of Funding rules are not relevant for these schools, and these students may be resitting GCSEs to improve their KS4 grade, which could have already been at grade 4 or above.  Amongst state-funded institutions, students in schools are consistently most likely to pass GCSE at level 2, then sixth form colleges and other FE sector colleges in both English and maths in 2020/21 and 2021/22.

Level 2 Functional Skills entries: within state-funded institutions sixth form colleges and ‘Other FE sector’ colleges are consistently more likely to pass than schools. Most entries in L2 Functional Skills are in ‘Other FE sector’ colleges.

Entries in reformed vocational and technical qualifications

Applied general, tech level, and technical certificate qualifications approved for reporting in this statistical release (and institution level performance data) are updated annually and published on gov.uk: 

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/performance-tables-technical-and-vocational-qualifications

The concept of qualifications approved for reporting has been applied since 2015/16 following Professor Alison Wolf's Review of Vocational Education. From 2017/18 at level 3 and from 2018/19 for technical certificates, the quality threshold for vocational and technical qualifications to be included in performance measures further increased. The later reforms include criteria relating to the size, content, and assessment, including a requirement that a proportion of a qualification's content is subject to external assessment. From 1 August 2020 the ESFA removed funding approval for pre-existing applied general and tech level qualifications (which had been approved in 2015/16 and 2016/17) which were running in parallel with newer redeveloped qualifications.

The measures presented in this section show the students entering these approved qualifications as a proportion of students entering a wider set of vocational qualifications that had been approved by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) for funding during 16 to 18 study.

Proportions entering approved tech level and applied general qualifications continue to increase following a large fall in 2017/18 (when both lists of approved qualifications changed substantially), with a jump in students entering reformed versions of qualifications in 21/22 (in part attributable to the defunding of unreformed pre-existing qualifications).

The coverage of the measure for technical certificates is strongly impacted by the removal of CAG and TAG data from 2021/22 accountability data (as coverage is students at the end of 16-18 study, and level 2 vocational qualifications are more often entered during a student’s first year of 16-18 study and so are excluded from the calculation).

The following table shows that there is variation in whether different institution types enter students for qualifications approved for reporting in performance tables versus the wider set of qualifications that were approved for funding.

Overall students in state-funded schools continue to be most likely to enter reformed versions of vocational and technical qualifications at level 3 (reformed in 2017/18), but 2021/22 saw a marked increase in the proportion of students entering approved/reformed applied general and tech levels across all broad institution types.

KS5 Transition Matrices

We have moved our Transition Matrices tool into a web based app for easier use. It is available at the following link:

16-18 Transition Matrices

Transition matrices (TM) are a useful tool to help visualise the progression from different groups of attainment at key stage 4 (KS4) to outcomes achieved during 16 to 18 for a range of different subjects. 

Note that the 16 to 18 outcomes here will also be impacted by the different process to award grades in 2022, which is likely to impact the relationship between outcomes and KS4 prior attainment in 2021/22 for subjects.

 

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