All supporting files from this release are listed for individual download below:
A level and other 16 to 18 results
- Last updated
See all updates (7) for Academic year 2021/22
Correction to an attainment graph
Dedicated link to dashboards added
Updated with minor correction to the A level grade combinations data.
Updated to add data for retention measures, and longer time-series data for selected statistics
Some Maths and Science files have been uploaded
Updated with revised data for the 2021/22 Academic year.
Updated with link to the Transition Matrices tool
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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 revised 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
A level retention
An increase of 3.8 ppts from 2018/19
What is this?
This is the headline retention rate for A level programmes. (The percentage of students who completed their A level programme).
Applied general retention
An increase of 5.1 ppts from 2018/19
What is this?
This is the headline retention rate for applied general programmes. (The percentage of students who completed their applied general programme).
Tech level retention
An increase of 3.2 ppts from 2018/19
What is this?
This is the headline retention rate for tech level programmes. (The percentage of students who completed their tech level programme).
- Average Point Score (APS) per entry for all level 3 cohorts is lower compared to 2020/21: A level, -2.8 pts; applied general, -0.7 pts; tech level, - 1.1 pts. However, attainment remains higher compared to 2018/19: A level, +4.9pts; applied general, +3.1 pts; tech level +1.9 pts. [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 pts and + 0.8 pts respectively).
- The disadvantage gap (between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students) is at its widest level for all Level 3 cohorts (A level, tech level, and applied general) 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.
- The percentage of students who completed their main or ‘core’ aim from their study programme, known as the Retention rate, increased across all programmes in 2021/22.
- Non-disadvantaged students are more likely to be retained than disadvantaged students, across all cohorts.
- Students with higher prior attainment are more likely to be retained than students with lower prior attainment, across all level 3 cohorts.
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.
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Download all data available in this release as a compressed ZIP file
Additional 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.
Exceptionally in autumn 2020 and 2021 an autumn series was put in place to allow students the opportunity to try to improve their A level or AS grade from the summer, if they wished to do so. Further information on the autumn 2021 series is available at this link:
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:
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 in 2021/22
Data excluded from 2021/22 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 2021/22 in this statistical release, data will only include entries and grades from qualifications awarded in the 2021/22 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 level||Applied general||Tech level||Technical certificate|
|Number of students||Published data||284,380||119,853||28,535||1,404|
|inc. TAG and CAG||289,260||133,439||33,592||8,580|
|Average point score (APS)||Published data||38.87||31.98||30.56||5.88|
|inc. TAG and CAG||38.82||31.38||29.84||5.76|
|Impact of the change||Number of students||-2%||-10%||-15%||-84%|
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 on 2020/21 data was to reduce the number of students in each cohort, with vocational and technical qualifications impacted most. In 2021/22, 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.
Changes from provisional 2021/22 data
Checking exercise and other amendments
This updated release is based on revised data. Since the release of provisional data in November, amendments to the data have been made. These include the addition of ‘late’ results from some Awarding Organisations, and changes made by schools and colleges through a ‘checking exercise’.
The checking exercise takes place in the autumn term and gives schools and colleges the opportunity to amend their data. Some students are removed from a school or colleges results, for example because the student wasn’t on roll or has not yet completed 16-18 study. Some students are added where they are flagged by a school or college as having completed 16-18 study despite not being triggered. Changes need to be approved to be included in revised data.
The 2021/22 academic year saw the return of the school and college checking exercise, after it was suspended in the two previous years. In this release data for 2019/20 and 2020/21 is labelled as ‘final’ data. This is provisional data adjusted for results from the autumn series for AS and A levels. (The autumn series gave students an opportunity to sit an exam if they were unhappy with the grade awarded to them through the alternative process). Data from 2019/20 and 2020/21 did not go through a checking exercise; schools and colleges did not have an opportunity to amend their data as described above.
The table shows the size of the change between provisional and revised/final data. Generally, the change in the numbers of students included in the data in 2021/22 is relatively small in terms of the overall cohort size, the exception being technical certificates where there are 655 more students in the revised release than the provisional (an increase of 87%). This increase is predominantly due to results being reported late by Awarding Organisations.
The size of the change between provisional and revised data is generally smaller in 2021/22 than in 2017/18 and 2018/19. Changes to the trigger rule were introduced to reduce the burden on schools and colleges. This gives an indication that the change is working as intended.
Change in the numbers of students between the provisional and revised/final data:
|Students at the end of 16-18 study||numbers||-32,660||-25,992||1,731||9,658||8,522|
|percentage change||-5.2 %||-4.2 %||0.3 %||2.0 %||1.5 %|
|percentage change||-2.7 %||-2.1 %||0.2 %||0.1 %||-0.1 %|
|percentage change||-4.2 %||6.1 %||0.6 %||4.6 %||1.2 %|
|percentage change||6.8 %||0.1 %||4.5 %||3.5 %||5.4 %|
|percentage change||-8.2 %||-7.6 %||1.6 %||1.4 %||87.4 %|
The table below shows the size of the change in the average point score between the provisional and the revised release. The changes are minimal. A change of 0.1 pts at A level / applied general / tech level is equivalent to 1/100th of a grade.
Change in Average Point Score (APS) per entry between the provisional and revised/final data.
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 automatically triggered for reporting 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 84%.
The growth in the number of students entered for 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).
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 level 3 vocational and technical qualifications was generally in line with this. (Applied general 23.0% and tech level 23.0%). Disadvantages students were overrepresented at technical certificate with 32.4% of the cohort identified as having disadvantaged status. Disadvantaged students were underrepresented at A level with 14.3% of the cohort identified as having disadvantaged status.
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, 18.4% 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 (94.8%). High attainers now make up 36.2% of the A level cohort compared to 4.7% of the applied general and 3.7% 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).
27.5% 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 for exam cohorts, 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
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 pts, compared to 0.7 pts for applied general and 1.1 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 pts) in the average points score. However, interpretation of this increase is undermined by a 58% drop in cohort numbers. Given that 84% of technical certificate students have been excluded form the data (see ‘Changes to the data in 2021/22’), technical certificate results will not be discussed in the breakdowns, however the data is available in the table builder tool.
For all Level 3 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, the South East, London and East of England tend to do better, being on or near the top in the last 3 years. These same regions have ranked in the bottom 4 for applied general in the same time period.
The North West is in the top half of the table for both A level and applied general, although the region dipped in both exam cohorts in 2020/21 when teacher assessed grades were used.
The East Midlands is in the bottom half of the table for both A level and applied general. The region attained the lowest A level results this year.
Regional rankings are more variable for tech levels (which may be attributable to 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 for the A level cohort and has remained stable for applied general and tech level cohorts. For the level 3 exam cohorts, the average point score has decreased for both disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students, however for A level students, the decrease was larger for disadvantaged students.
The disadvantage gap for Level 3 cohorts 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 on 30th 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 male students, but since 2020/21 it has been in favour of female students.
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 5.2 ppts in 2017/18 to 0.9 ppts in 2021/22 in favour of female students.
Average results by ethnicity
Of the major ethnicity groups, Black or Black British students attained the lowest average result across all level 3 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.
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 2018/19. Sixth form colleges had the smallest decrease this year, falling by -1.3 pts. 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. 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 94.3%. They also had the largest increase in this measure from 2020/21, rising by 2.1 ppts. ‘Other FE sector colleges’ have continued their upward trend for the percentage of students achieving two or more A levels, rising by 1.3 ppts from 2020/21 and up by 18.6 ppts since 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 major institution types compared to last year. Sixth form colleges and ‘All independent schools’ had the largest decreases at -3.3 pts and -2.3 pts respectively.
Conversely, both sixth form colleges and ‘All 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 showed the general trend of lower attainment in 2021/22 as seen in the A level and tech level qualifications).
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 27.8% 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 0.9 pts from 2.7 pts in 2020/21). There was a small increase for those with prior attainment of grade 4 up to grade 7 (up 0.2 pts from 2.6 pts) and the gap stayed steady for those with prior attainment of grade 0 up to grade 4.
Disadvantage and other student characteristics
Across level 3 exam cohorts, 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.
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.
The disadvantage gap remains greater for female students in all level 3 cohorts, as it has since 2019/20.
Attainment in 21/22: A level grade distribution by characteristics and institution type
Data in this section covers A level entries and results for all students aged 16-18 at the start of the respective year. Students don't need to be triggered for inclusion in this data, so 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 chart 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 (between A* and B) has decreased in comparison to 2020/21 but remains higher than 2018/19.
In 2021/22, 14.8% of awarded grades were at A*. This is an increase of 6.9ppts from 2018/19, but a decrease of 4.3ppts from 2020/21. The percentage of entries achieving A*-A grades is now 36.4%, which similarly corresponds to an increase of 10.6ppts compared to 2018/19 but a decrease of 7.9ppts 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 6.9ppts in 2020/21 to 4.7ppts.
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 3.3ppts 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 13.3ppts in 2021/22.
A level grades by institution
The proportion of entries awarded A* grades at A level has decreased across nearly all institution types for 2021/22 compared to 2020/21, with independent schools observing the largest decrease of 10.8ppts. The exception is sixth form colleges, where the proportion of A* grades is marginally higher than 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, ‘All 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. Students don't need to be triggered for inclusion in this data, so 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 (8.4ppts) and the smallest decrease was in physics (4.7ppts).
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 (17.1ppts 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 in provisional data) – 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 (-27% 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 Attainment||English entries in 2021/22||Proportion of English entries at prior attainment band||maths entries in 2021/22||Proportion of maths entries at prior attainment band|
|All GCSEs||Priors 7+||450||0.3%||285||0.2%|
|Priors 4 to < 7||13,779||9.8%||33,681||18.9%|
|Priors 0 to < 4||111,537||79.2%||130,901||73.3%|
|Unknown prior attainment||15,028||10.7%||13,766||7.7%|
|L2 Functional Skills||Priors 7+||5||0.1%||5||0.1%|
|Priors 4 to < 7||352||5.4%||441||10.5%|
|Priors 0 to < 4||4,914||75.7%||3,007||71.8%|
|Unknown prior attainment||1,217||18.8%||734||17.5%|
|L1 Functional Skills||Priors 7+||11||0.1%||13||0.1%|
|Priors 4 to < 7||220||2.2%||444||4.5%|
|Priors 0 to < 4||6,523||65.1%||6,324||63.7%|
|Unknown prior attainment||3,265||32.6%||3,142||31.7%|
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 20.8 ppts to 63.6% (12.0 ppts fall in English to 81.0%). Maths L1 functional skills decreased by 10.2 ppts to 85.4% (English fall, 3.3ppts to 94.0%). For maths GCSE the overall pass rate (grade 9-1) decreased by 5.8ppts to 84.9% (English decreased by 3.7 ppts to 85.8%) and the level 2 pass rate (grade 9-4) also decreased 16.7ppts to 15.3% for Maths and 13.9ppts to 25.7% 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 (provisional data).
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:
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.
Retention: Introduction and changes to the data in 2021/22
Introduction to retention measures
The Retention measure shows the percentage of students who are retained to the end of the ‘core aim’ (or main learning aim) of their study programme at a school or college.
Students are counted as retained if they are recorded as having “completed the learning activities leading to the learning aim” by their institution. This information is collected in the school census or for students that attended sixth form or FE colleges, the Individualised Learner Record (ILR).
Retention measures are not calculated for independent schools or special schools (both independent and maintained) as learning aims data is not available for these schools.
The Retention measure is calculated by dividing the total number of students retained by the total number of students with a core aim, in each of the five programmes approved for reporting in performance tables: academic, A level, applied general, tech level, and at level 2, technical certificate programmes.
Since academic programmes comprise largely of A levels, only data for A level core aims are described here; overall data for academic programmes can be found in the ‘create your own tables’ section and in the underlying data available to download.
Alongside the headline Retention measure there are two supporting retention measures:
Retained and Assessed: The percentage of students who are retained to the end of their course and are assessed.
Returned and Retained for a second year: The percentage of level 3 students who return to the same provider and complete their programme of study in their second year. (The main difference when compared to Retention is for students who complete their core aim in one year.)
A fuller description of the methodology underlying retention measures can be found in the 16-18 technical guide (from page 41).
Retention measures during COVID-19
Unlike attainment measures, retention measures did not need adaptations to the methodology as they are not based on results data (meaning all exam entries are considered in the Retained and Assessed measure, irrespective of whether the result attached to the exam entry was awarded through the CAG or TAG processes; this is a difference from adapted attainment measures for 2021/22 where both exam entries and results awarded from January 2020 to August 2021 were excluded from calculations).
However, changes to teaching and assessment during the Covid-19 pandemic may have affected retention measures in other ways. For example, when schools and colleges closed for most students at the end of March 2020, students may have been recorded as completing their learning aim when they may have not finished their course had it continued to the end of the 2019/20 academic year. Another example is that students were only assessed on the content they had been taught in 2020/21, hence may have been recorded as Retained and Assessed when just part of the syllabus had been delivered.
Retention measures and the impact of the trigger change in 2020/21
The impact of the trigger rule change, meaning that students were no longer automatically reported after two years in 16-18 study, was to reduce the reported number of students in scope for retention measures across all exam cohorts in 2020/21, with the biggest impact on vocational and technical cohorts (VTQs).
For retention measures, this meant that Retention rates were slightly increased in 2020/21 for level 3 cohorts (A level, applied general, tech level) than would have been seen otherwise. However, the impact on the level 2 technical certificate cohort was a large decrease in Retention rates (and in cohort size).
Fuller analysis on the impact on 2020/21 retention data can be found in the methodology document, in the section ‘Changes introduced in the 2020/21 release’, under the heading ‘Impact of the trigger change on headline retention rates’.
Students whose reporting was delayed for one year due to the 2020/21 trigger change are reported in 2021/22. In other words, the impact of the trigger change was one-off discontinuity in retention data for 2020/21. For this reason, when looking at trends, data for 2021/22 is better compared to data for 2019/20 and earlier years.
Summary of trends in retention measures
All level 3 study programmes show increases in Retention rates in 2021/22 (A level +0.1 pts to 95.1%; applied general +1.8 pts to 91.7%; tech level +0.5 ppts to 91.1%). This continues a trend of increasing Retention rates since 2018/19. A level programmes continue to have the highest Retention rate as has been the case since the measure was introduced in 2015/16, but for the first time applied general programmes have a higher Retention rate than tech levels programmes.
Technical certificates have had lower Retention rates than Level 3 cohorts since being added to performance measures in 2016/17. However, they have seen an increase in Retention rate this year (+4.5 ppts to 86.6%), recovering from the impact of the trigger change that was seen last year and returning to previously-seen levels.
For the A level and applied general cohorts, rates for the Retained and Assessed measure have increasingly followed the same general trend as the Retention rate in recent years. Similarly, the Returned and Retained measure now also follows the same trend. This is most notable for the A level cohort where the phased decoupling of AS and A levels predominantly between 2017 and 2019 has resulted in a much smaller proportion of the A level cohort taking AS levels only and not then returning for a second year of study.
The tech level cohort shows a slightly different pattern this year whereby the Retained and Assessed rate has dropped slightly despite increases in both the Retained rate (retention to the end of the course) and the Returned and Retained rate (retention specifically over two years of a course). This means that within this cohort there was an increase in the proportion of students not being assessed at the end of their course .
The much smaller technical certificate cohort (Level 2) was heavily impacted by the trigger change in 2020/21 and shows less stable trends. In addition, the low cohort numbers mean that breakdowns of the technical certificate data, by student characteristics become increasingly unreliable, and therefore this cohort isn’t discussed further.
Due to the similarity in the trends shown by the three retention measures, in particular for the two largest cohorts (A level and applied general), our further narrative will focus on the Retained and Assessed measure. Further breakdowns of the Retention measure and the Returned and Retained measure across all qualification cohorts are available in underlying data and through the table builder.
Retained and Assessed by disadvantage status
The Retained and Assessed rate is higher for non-disadvantaged students across all level 3 cohorts. Disadvantaged tech level students are least likely to be Retained and Assessed at 79.1%, which is 7.1 ppts lower than their non-disadvantaged peers. The Retained and Assessed disadvantage gap is smaller for A level and applied general (5.6 ppts and 5.3 ppts respectively).
The disadvantage gap has been narrowing for the A level cohort since 2018/19 (from 8.4 ppts to 5.6 ppts). Similarly, the applied general cohort has, overall, seen a substantial decrease in the gap in that time (from 7.9 ppts to 5.6 ppts). In contrast, the tech level cohort did not consolidate an initial decrease in the gap in 2019/20 and is now only slightly smaller than in 2018/19 (from 7.6 ppts to 7.1 ppts).
Retained and Assessed by prior attainment
Changes to the distribution of prior attainment at A level between 2017/18 and 2021/22
The coverage of the retention measures is different to the attainment measures, and is described above in ‘Retention: introduction and changes to the data in 2021/22’. The largest difference is that independent schools are excluded from the data, and this impacts the distribution of the prior attainment groups as students from independent schools have higher prior attainment on average.
The distribution of prior attainment has changed over time for all cohorts. The proportion of A level students with low prior attainment (from grade 0 up to grade 4) has decreased from 8.1% of the cohort in 2017/18 to 1.9% in 2021/22. High prior attaining students (average grade 7 or more) have increased their proportion of the cohort from 16.1% in 2017/18 to 35.3% in 2021/22.
This increase in the proportion of KS4 students achieving grades averaging 7 or more, in part reflects year on year grade increases at KS4, and in part reflects that most A level students at the end of 16-18 study in 2021/22 will have completed KS4 in 2019/20, and so their GCSE prior attainment will include Centre Assessment Grades (CAG).
However, in the vocational and technical cohorts, a larger proportion of students are being reported after three years in 16-18, hence prior attainment for these cohorts is less affected by CAGs. This is following delay in their reporting last year due to the change in the rule in 2020/21 triggering students for reporting.
Overall, students with the highest average prior attainment (grade 7+) are most likely to be Retained and Assessed in their main programme of study and students with the lowest prior attainment (grade 0 up to grade 4) the least likely to be Retained and Assessed. The highest Retained and Assessed rate is for high prior attaining A level students at 98.7%. The lowest Retained and Assessed rate is also for A level students. Low prior attaining A level students have a Retained and Assessed rate of 66.0%.
The Retained and Assessed rate for low prior attaining A level students has fallen and is now close to the 2018/19 rate, whereas the rate remains higher for other level 3 cohorts.
Retained and Assessed by other student characteristics
A full breakdown of all three retention measures by a range of other student characteristics is available through the table builder. Here, we draw attention to small number of breakdowns that may be of interest.
Across all level 3 cohorts, students with English as their first language have lower Retained and Assessed rates than students who do not. The difference is driven by poor rates for disadvantaged students with English as their first language.
For the A level cohort, the increase in the Retained and Assessed rate since last year is seen for all major ethnicity groups. The Chinese ethnic group has had the highest rates for the last five years and, like the other groups, is now at its highest level (98.2%) during that time period. The Black or Black British ethnic group has seen the biggest improvements in Retained and Assessed rates over recent years (an increase of 6.7 ppts since 2018/19, to 95.1%). This means that the White and the Mixed Dual background groups now have the lowest rates of the major known ethnic groups (93.9% and 93.8% respectively).
The White and the Mixed Dual background groups also have largest disadvantage gaps (8.8 ppts and 6.9 ppts). This means that students with disadvantaged status within these ethnicity groups have a much lower Retained and Assessed rate than students with non-disadvantaged status. The gap for other groups with known ethnicity is between 2 and 3 points. This results in the White disadvantaged group having the lowest Retained and Assessed rates overall at 86.0%.
The applied general cohort similarly has an increase in the Retained and Assessed rate since last year for all major (known) ethnicity groups and shows many of the same trends between groups. The Chinese ethnic group has the highest Retained and Assessed rates since 2018/19 (now at 95.8%) and the Black or Black British ethnic group and the Mixed Dual background ethnic group have made the biggest improvements in Retained and Assessed rates over recent years (+9.9 ppts to 89.1%, +9.9 ppts to 87.0% respectively). Again, the White ethnic group shows the largest disadvantage gap and White disadvantaged students have the lowest rates for Retained and Assessed.
The tech level cohort and the technical certificate cohort have very low numbers in some ethnic groups, and show less distinct patterns over recent years.
Retained and Assessed by institution type
For the A level cohort, state-funded mainstream schools and Sixth form colleges have seen an increase in rates for Retained and Assessed this year (+1.5 ppts to 95.4% and +0.5 ppts to 92.3% respectively). In contrast, ‘Other FE sector colleges’ have seen a decrease (-2.3 ppts to 88.2%). However, the decrease for ‘Other FE sector colleges’ follows very large increases last year; the relative rates of the three major institution types have returned to levels seen before the change to the trigger rule.
There have also been decreases in the Retained and Assessed rate for ‘Other FE sector colleges’ in the applied general and tech level cohorts, following larger increases in the previous two years. All state-funded mainstream schools continue to have the lowest Retained and Assessed rates for applied general and tech level qualifications. This has been the case since 2018/19.
Time-series: APS per entry by institution type
This data is available through the ‘Explore data and files’ section in the file called ‘Time series - APS per entry by institution type’.
In addition it is accessible through the dashboard linked below. The dashboard combines data from this statistical release (covering the last 5 years) with selected older data compiled from previous versions of the ‘A level and other 16 to 18 results’ statistical release:
On the left-hand side, clicking on the link ‘Attainment: APS per entry and average result’ brings up the dashboard with attainment data in terms of APS per entry.
Data including the applied general and tech level cohorts starts in 2015/16 (when these cohorts were first defined in this statistical release, and school and college data). Data for the A level cohort starts in 2012/13.
Time-series: A level subject entries and grade by gender
This data is available through the ‘Explore data and files’ section in the file called ‘Time series - A level subject entries and grade by gender’.
In addition it is accessible through the dashboard linked below. The dashboard combines data from this statistical release (covering the last 5 years) with selected older data compiled from previous versions of the ‘A level and other 16 to 18 results’ statistical release:
On the left-hand side, clicking on the link ‘Attainment: A level entries and grade distribution' brings up the dashboard with A level entries data by subject, and A level grades by subject.
These data cover A level entries by students aged 16 to 18 within each academic year from 1995/96.
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:
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.
Help and support
Find out how and why we collect, process and publish these statistics.
The United Kingdom Statistics Authority designated these statistics as National Statistics in accordance with the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 and signifying compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics.
Designation signifying their compliance with the authority's Code of Practice for Statistics which broadly means these statistics are:
- managed impartially and objectively in the public interest
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Once designated as National Statistics it's a statutory requirement for statistics to follow and comply with the Code of Practice for Statistics to be observed.
Find out more about the standards we follow to produce these statistics through our Standards for official statistics published by DfE guidance.
If you have a specific enquiry about A level and other 16 to 18 results statistics and data:
Attainment statistics team
Telephone: Michael Greer
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