Academic Year 2019/20

A level and other 16 to 18 results

Published
Last updated
See all updates (3)
  1. Regional and Local authority codes have been updated in the underlying data.

  2. The L3 maths measure has been corrected for 2019/20 to account for the change in the English and maths points lookup table.

  3. Updated to add data on retention measures

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the summer exam series was cancelled in 2020.  In addition the Department announced that it will not publish any school or college level educational performance data based on tests, assessments or exams for 2020. This means that the performance tables are suspended for this year.

Students scheduled to sit GCSE and A/AS level exams in 2020 were awarded either a centre assessment grade (based on what the school or college believed the student would most likely have achieved had exams gone ahead) or their calculated grade using a model developed by Ofqual - whichever was the higher of the two.

For vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs), where centre assessment was used, it was a different process to that for A/AS levels. Centre assessment grades were often available at unit level, and many awarding organisations were able to use evidence of work already competed during the course, and use this as a basis for calculating the results they issued. For some qualifications adapted assessment meant calculation was not needed.

This data presented in this release has been adapted as a result:

  • The checking exercise was cancelled this year. This followed the Department’s announcement that 2020 exams would not be published at school or college level in accountability data, which included sharing through the checking site. This means that whilst these statistics are labelled as ‘provisional’ they will not be updated with the 'revised’ data in January following that checking/confirmation with schools and colleges.
  • Characteristic breakdowns are included that are usually published first in the January ‘revised’ release.
  • Level 3 value-added data is not being produced this year. These are normally calculated by comparing a student’s actual results to a set of expected results from a model based on national averages. The difference between a centre assessment grade (what a school or college believed the student would have got in an exam) and a result estimated by a DfE model would have very little meaning.

The cancellation of both the exam assessment and checking exercise as outlined above means the 2019/20 data should not be directly compared to attainment data from previous years for the purposes of measuring change in student performance; in other words, year on year changes might be caused by the different process for awarding qualifications in 2020 rather than reflecting a change in underlying performance.

Further details are given in the Methodology section.


Headline facts and figures - 2019/20

N.B. As described above, the process for awarding qualifications in 2019/20 differed from that in previous years.

  • All level 3 exam cohorts showed increases in APS per entry compared to 2018/19:

                    A level  (+ 5.7pts)  >>  applied general (+2.9pts)  >> tech level (+1.3pts)

 A/AS levels were awarded predominately through centre-assessment grades (what a school or college believed a student would most likely have achieved had exams gone ahead); for vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) awarding organisations were often able to use evidence of work already completed for CAGs. For other VTQ qualifications adapted assessment meant calculation was not needed at all.

  • Whilst all institution types saw an increase in the proportion of A level grades awarded at A* compared to 2018/19, the increase was largest in independent schools (circa +11ppts), compared to  state-funded schools (circa +6ppts) and both sixth form colleges and other FE sector colleges (circa +4ppts).
  • In 2019/20 both males and females were more likely to be awarded the higher A level grades (A*/A) than in 2018/19, though increases were larger for females. The impact was to reverse the small gender gap in achievement seen in 2017/18 and 2018/19, with more females than males now being awarded the top A*-A grades in 2019/20. For A*-B combined the gap between female and male achievement widened.
  • More broadly however, the different process to award grades in 2020 only modestly impacted on pre-existing attainment gaps observed for students with different personal characteristics. Gaps in APS per entry associated with disadvantage, ethnicity, SEN status, or first language neither widened nor contracted by more than 1/20th of a grade overall.
  • Regions with the highest and lowest APS per entry at A level are unchanged for the last 3 years
  • In 2019/20 A level programmes saw the first increase in the percentage of students who completed their main study programme since the measure was introduced in 2015/16, also known as headline retention. This was driven by improved retention of students with lower average KS4 prior attainment (grade 0 <4).

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

Introduction: students and results reported in these statistics

The purpose of this statistical release is to maintain the continuity of information. The A level and other 16 to 18 grades awarded to students in 2020 will remain with them as they stay on in higher education or enter employment after leaving school or college. It is important to maintain transparency by presenting the national level data for this cohort of students whilst recognising the extraordinary circumstances in which qualifications were awarded this summer. The cancellation of exams and the substantially changed method for awarding grades has impacted greatly on the results. Comparisons with earlier years will not be indicative of underlying changes in student performance. 

This statistical release includes results for 16 to 18 year olds in England who reached the end of their 16 to 18 study in 2019/20. Students typically spend either two or three years in the 16 to 18 phase, and attainment includes results from qualifications entered during all those years of study. 

Qualifications in scope are those approved for reporting in 2020 school and college performance tables, and 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. 

Normally school and college performance tables data would be updated in January 2021 with data for the 2020 cohort of students reported in this release. This will not happen this year. As part of the response to COVID-19 the Government announced in March 2020 that it will not publish any individual school or college level educational performance data based on tests, assessments or exams for 2020. 

Retention data (added May 2021)   

Performance in retention measures is based on recording by schools and colleges whether the student “completed the learning activities leading to the learning aim”. 

For students due to complete their learning aim in 2019/20, that may or may not have happened before schools and colleges closed at the end of 20 March 2020 (except for the children of key workers and vulnerable young people). Some students may have been recorded as completing their learning aim when they may not have finished their course had it continued to the end of the academic year.

Whilst broadly headline retention rates increased slightly in 2019/2020 - following falls in 2018/19 - this increase may reflect a knock-on impact of Covid on reporting rather than a change in behaviour.

Note, an issue was discovered with retention data in 2018/19 for 20 schools. An out of date source file was used to create initial 2018/19 retention figures meaning school changes between August and October were not accounted for in the data and retention figures were reported incorrectly. Nationally, the impact on headline retention and supporting retention measures was small across all programmes of study (less than -0.1 ppts for both headline retention, and retained and assessed; less than -0.2 ppts for retained and returned for a second year). Data for 2018/19 has been corrected for this statistical release.

The retention data for 2018/19 on the Compare School and College Performance website has also been corrected. Details of the 20 impacted schools, including corrected data for headline retention and supporting measures, is available from ‘Download data and files’.

Level 3 maths measure  (updated Sept 2021)

In 2019/20 the English and maths points lookup table changed to reflect the change in GCSEs from an A*-G to 9-1 scale. The original A*-G grades were translated to an 8-1 lookup table but now that 9-1 GCSEs have completely replaced A*-G, the 8-1 English and maths lookup table has been replaced with a 9-1 table. The L3 maths measure also uses the lookup points to assign which students are in scope of the measure in achieving a maths GCSE C/4 or higher at KS4. Under the old points lookup system, a student needed a 5 or higher to be in scope for the measure but under the new system it’s 4 or higher. This change was missed in the original publication meaning that the measure only included students that had achieved a GCSE grade 5 or higher in maths. This meant the cohort had appeared smaller than previous years and the students were more likely to take a L3 maths qualification because they had a higher prior attainment in maths. Data for 2019/20 has now been corrected for this statistical release.

Student numbers by cohort

The fall in the number of level 3 students for this year mirrors the fall in the number of students at the end of 16 to 18 study. There was a disproportionately large decrease in the A level cohort, with more students entering level 3 vocational and technical qualifications. 

These changes do not reflect students switching from A levels to vocational and technical qualifications (though note students can appear in multiple cohorts, where they have entered a qualification of that type).

The fall in the A level cohort (which will include AS levels not discounted by an A level)  is partly due to fewer AS level entries following the reform to A levels, and the decoupling of A and AS levels. The increases in the number of students entering vocational and technical qualifications is discussed in the section ‘Entries in reformed vocational and technical qualifications’ but in general these changes in student numbers reflect how schools and colleges have reacted to reforms to level 3 qualifications in 2017/18 and technical certificates in 2018/19, along with the corresponding changes in the list of qualifications eligible for inclusion in performance tables.

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

Summary

In typical years, average point score (APS) per entry is based on exams entered by students throughout their 16 to 18 study; although this year it can reflect other forms of assessment, as previously described. While the majority of results come from the student's final year of study (in particular for A levels), some reflect exams entered in previous years.

The calculation of APS per entry involves converting grades to a consistent points scale. For example, a qualification graded A/B/C/D/E may need to be combined with another graded on a Distinction / Merit / Pass scale. The APS per entry point scales for the exam cohorts reported are:

A level/academic 0 - 60
Applied general0 - 50
Tech level0 - 50
Technical certificate0 - 8

A level APS per entry is substantially higher in 2019/20. However, given the different process to award A/AS grades in 2019/20, a direct comparison will not be indicative of underlying changes in student performance; in other words, year on year changes might be caused by the different process for awarding qualifications in 2020 rather than reflecting a change in underlying performance.

Changes in APS per entry for vocational and technical  qualifications overall are smaller (though applied general still exceeds any increase observed since reporting began in 2015/16) . To some extent this reflects the different process to award grades in 2020 compared to that for A/AS levels. For the majority of vocational and technical qualifications, awarding organisations were able to use evidence of work already completed during the course, and elsewhere some students have taken adapted assessments. However, comparisons are not indicative of underlying changes in student performance

A level APS per entry by region

Regions with the highest APS per entry by exam cohort

 2017/182018/192019/20
APS per entry - A levelSouth EastSouth EastSouth East
APS per entry - Applied generalNorth EastWest MidlandsWest Midlands
APS per entry - Tech levelNorth EastLondonLondon

Regions with the lowest APS per entry by exam cohort

 2017/182018/192019/20
APS per entry - A levelWest MidlandsWest MidlandsWest Midlands
APS per entry - Applied generalSouth WestSouth EastEast of England
APS per entry - Tech levelEast of EnglandWest MidlandsNorth East

The regions with the highest and lowest APS per entry for A levels have been consistent for the past 3 years (including the different process for awarding grades in 2019/20). The lowest averages for applied general and tech level were more variable, possibly reflecting the smaller student cohorts.

Attainment: APS per entry by gender, disadvantage, and other characteristics

Making comparisons over time

As previously noted, direct comparisons with previous years will not be indicative of underlying changes in student performance. Where achievement gaps alter in 2019/20 compared to previous years (for example the gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students) it might reflect the different process by which grades were awarded this year. 

Results by gender

While there were broad increases in attainment this year due to the different process to award grades, these were slightly larger for female students. For A levels, females saw a 5.9 point increase in APS per entry compared to 5.6 points for male students. Applied general and tech level qualifications also saw larger increases in attainment for females (3.1 v 2.7ppts and 1.7 v 0.9ppts respectively). 

However, note that in grade terms the increase in the APS per entry gender gaps are modest (a change of 0.5 points corresponds to  1 /20th of a grade).

Results by disadvantage

The method of awarding grades hasn't led to notable changes in the gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students in state-funded schools. 

At A level, disadvantaged students saw a slightly larger increase in APS per entry than non-disadvantaged students (6.3 v 5.7ppts, representing the gap narrowing by a little over 1/20th of a grade).  

The opposite was the case for applied general and tech level qualifications. However increases in attainment were smaller for both disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students, and gaps only widened very slightly.

Results by ethnicity

For A levels the largest point increases in attainment were for the ‘Other ethnic group' category (6.5ppts), ‘Black and Black British’ (6.3ppts) and ‘Asian or Asian British’ (6.1ppts). The effect of this is that the gap between the highest and lowest scoring ethnic groups has decreased very slightly this year, from 9.5 to 9ppts, or by about 1/20th of a grade. 

For applied general and tech level exam cohorts different ethnic groups showed smaller, broadly similar increases in attainment. However, care should be taken interpreting exact changes due to small cohort sizes when broken down by ethnicity.

Results by first language

Students with a first language other than English have tended to do slightly worse in A level and applied general qualifications, and this pattern was maintained in 2019/20.  However, differences in tech level attainment remain negligible.

Compared with last year, A level attainment increased slightly less for students with ‘English as a first language’ (5.8ppts) than for those in the ‘Other first language’ category (6.2ppts), reducing the gap, albeit only by about 1/25th of a grade.  For applied general and tech level qualifications the impact on gaps was even smaller.

Results by Special Educational Need (SEN) status

As seen at other key stages, students with some level of SEN (EHC Plan, Statement of SEN, SEN Support) tend to have lower levels of attainment, and this is seen for all three qualification types (in 2019/20 and 2018/19).

There were similar annual increases in A level APS per entry for all students with some level of SEN and No identified SEN (all increases within about 0.3 points of each other, or about 3/100ths of an A level grade).

Across tech level and applied general cohorts the picture is more mixed, but overall there is no clear pattern for students with or without some level of SEN doing relatively better or worse in 2019/20.

Attainment: APS per entry by institution type

APS per entry by institution type and cohort

There has been a large rise in APS per entry for A levels over the two broad school and college institution types shown in the table below, following two relatively consistent years. The 2019/20 APS increases range from +4.6 to +6ppts, in comparison to the previous year where the APS change ranged from -0.1 to +1.1ppts.  This is likely to be due to the different process for awarding grades in 2019/20.

However, increases last year are less consistent across institution types for applied general qualifications, where other FE sector colleges went from the largest increase in APS between 2017/18 and 2018/19, to the smallest increase between 2018/19 and 2019/20.

Tech levels are mostly delivered in other FE sector colleges and state-funded schools: whilst attainment increased similarly by a little under 1ppt (about 1/10th of a grade) in other FE sector colleges in both the last 2 years, in state-funded schools the increase was much more marked at around just over 2.5ppts (or 1/4th of a grade) in 2019/20.

Technical certificate qualifications are mostly delivered in other FE sector colleges (93% of all entries), where attainment is essentially unchanged for the last 3 years.

In general, the vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) appear to show the smallest increase in APS. This is likely due to the different process for awarding VTQ grades than AS/A level.  In VTQ qualifications that did use centre assessment grades this was often at unit level, and many awarding organisations were able to use evidence of work already competed during the course. For other qualifications adapted assessment meant calculation was not needed.  This has lead to APS per entry scores for applied general and tech level cohorts overall more similar to previous years than A levels. 

Attainment in 19/20: A level grade distribution by characteristics and institution type

Summary

The graph below shows the distribution of A level grades for students aged 16 to 18 at the start of each respective academic year.

Reflecting the increase in APS, there are substantially higher proportions of  grades at A*, A and B in 2019/20.  As previously noted, year on year comparisons cannot be interpreted as students achieving at a higher standard. Where achievement gaps alter in 2019/20 compared to previous years (for example the gap between male and female attainment), it might reflect the different process by which grades were awarded this year. 

Graphs and tables later in this section look at the grade distribution of students by gender and institution type. 

A level results by gender

Overall in 2019/20 both males and females were more likely to be awarded the higher A level grades (A*/A/B) than in 2018/19.

However, increases were larger for females. The impact was to reverse the gender gap in achievement seen in 2017/18 and 2018/19, with more females than males now being awarded the top A*-A grades in 2019/20. For A*-B combined the gap between female and male achievement widened.

A level grades by institution

Both state-funded and independent schools saw considerable increases in the proportion of entries awarded A* grades at A level: state-funded schools increasing from 6.7% to 12.9% (just over 6ppts) in the last year, but still a smaller increase than independent schools (circa 11ppts). For both, the proportion of A* grades had fallen the year before that (from 2017/18 to 2018/19). It's a similar story for the top A*-A grades combined, where increases were bigger for independent schools than state-funded schools over the last year.

In contrast very few A levels failed to result in a passing grade in 2019/20 in either state-funded schools (0.4%) or independent schools (0.2%), and non passing grades were also lower than in previous years.

The increase in the proportion entries awarded A* grades for FE sector colleges was less pronounced than for state-funded schools, increasing from 5.5. to 9.6% (4.1ppts) from the previous year.  Increases in combined A*-A grades increased from 20.3 to 29.9% (9.6 ppts) for FE sector colleges compared to last year.  The proportion of exam entries not achieving a passing A level grade was slightly more for FE sector colleges than state-funded and independent schools at 0.7%.

Attainment in 19/20: A level grade distribution by STEM subject

A level grades by STEM subjects

The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) A level results reflect the previously discussed increases in APS per entry for A level overall, with significant increases in attainment of top grades. Subjects with particularly large increases include further maths and computing.

For further maths in 2018/19, a higher proportion of entries by male students achieved a top A* grade, by a margin of 4 percentage points. For 2019/20 that gender gap has reversed. The high proportion of entries reaching A* in this qualification is also notable, 41.2% and 40.9% for females and males respectively. 

The results for computing also show a gender difference in this year's results. In 2018/19 females were more likely than males to achieve top A*/A grades (1.3 percentage point difference). For 2019/20 that gender gap grew considerably, to 10 percentage points. Similar effects are apparent for other STEM subjects, such as mathematics and physics, with bigger increases for female students in the top grades.

English and maths progress

Since August 2014, students on  16 to 19 study programmes of 150 hours or more who do not hold a GCSE grade 9 to 4  (or equivalent qualification) in English and/or maths, are required to study these subjects under Condition of Funding rules

Calculating progress, and how points are assigned to English and maths qualifications 

The English and maths progress measure is based on a scale which ranges from 0 to 9 points, depending on the type of qualification taken and the grade achieved. A student's progress is calculated by subtracting the points associated with their best grade during 16 to 18 from their  points at the end of key stage 4. Students who do not enter any approved exams during 16 to 18 study automatically score -1 progress. A list of the qualifications eligible for inclusion in these measures, and their points, is available amongst the files available to download. 

See the Methodology section for details of a change in points in 2020.

Data on a level 3 maths measure, along with further data on English and maths progress, is available to download in the associated files (the level 3 maths measure includes students who achieved GCSE maths grade 9-4 by the end of key stage 4, showing the % that go on to achieve an approved level 3 maths qualification). 

Unlike the English and maths measures, level 3 value added is not being published for this cycle. English and maths progress is a direct measure of progress,  but level 3 value added is calculated by comparing a student’s actual results to a set of expected results from a model based on national averages. The difference between a centre assessment grade (what a school or college believed the student would have got in an exam) and a result estimated by a DfE model would have very little meaning.

Summary

The maths and English qualifications reported in the progress measures (for example GCSEs and Functional Skills) are also impacted by the alternative processes to award grades in 2020. As such the historically large increases in progress, and the jump in the proportion of students making positive progress cannot be interpreted as a change in underlying performance.

The number of students in scope continues to decrease, partly due to fewer students overall aged 16 to 18, and partly because more of those students had already achieved GCSE grade 4 or equivalent by the end of KS4.

Institution types

Amongst state-funded institutions, ‘other FE sector colleges' tend to have lower English and maths progress than sixth form colleges, and state-funded schools.

Independent schools achieve the lowest progress scores in the measure. This is likely because they are not impacted by Condition of Funding rules, and so their students are more likely to enter unapproved qualifications such as International GCSEs.

This pattern of results was also seen for the previous two years. Note that care should be taken in interpreting the progress measure for institution types with low student numbers such as free schools, UTCs and studio schools.

Student characteristics

Males made virtually the same progress as females in English in 2019/20; however the gap to females was less than 0.1pts (or less than 1/10th grade at GCSE), and had been narrowing. Females continue to make slightly greater progress in maths than males, and whilst widening slightly in 2019/20, is just 0.06 pts (or 6/100th of a GCSE grade).

Non-disadvantaged students continue to make better progress than disadvantaged students in both English and maths. In English the gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students is very slightly smaller this year, decreasing to 0.22 points. Similarly the gap for maths has decreased slightly to 0.18 points. Note, disadvantaged students are overrepresented in the English and maths progress cohort, at approximately 40% compared to less than 20% in the 16 to 18 cohort overall. 

The English and maths progress for other student characteristics show no notable changes in the pattern of results.

Entries in reformed vocational and technical qualifications

Applied general, tech level, and technical certificate qualifications approved for reporting in this statistical release (and performance tables) 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.

The measures presented in this section show the students entering these approved qualifications as a proportion of students entering the wider set of vocational qualifications approved by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) for funding during 16 to 18 study. As based on entries, these metrics were largely unaffected by the changes to grade awarding processes this year.

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); likewise the proportion of students entering approved technical certificate qualifications has increased following a large fall in 2018/19, when that list changed substantially.

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

An increasing majority of students in independent schools and state-funded schools in 2019/20 entered approved applied general qualifications than in 2018/19; however conversely in sixth form colleges and other FE sectors colleges, whilst a higher proportion of students now enter approved qualifications, the majority still do not.

State-funded schools lead the adoption of reformed tech levels, however these still make up just about 1/3rd of vocational entries at level 3.

Take up of reformed versions of technical certificates is low across all institution types, but in particular in sixth form colleges.

Retention: Headline and additional retention measures for the last 3 years

The headline retention measure shows the percentage of students who completed their main study programme at a provider. A student’s main study programme is also known as a core aim.

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).

The headline retention measure is calculated by dividing the total number of students retained by the total number of students in scope, for each of the five core aim 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 shown here; overall data for academic programmes can be found in the ‘create your own tables’ section and in the underlying data available to download.

Headline Retention

In 2019/20 the retention rates for all students show modest increases for Level 3 study programmes. A level programmes continue to have the highest retention rate as has been the case since the measure was introduced in 2015/16. A level retention rates had previously decreased every year, however in 2019/20 there has been a small increase of 0.8ppts from 91.3% to 92.1%. Applied general and tech levels programmes have also seen increases in headline retention rates (0.3ppts and 1.2ppts respectively). 

These increases in retention have been driven by improved retention of students within the lowest prior attainment group (average KS4 grade 0 to <4). Disadvantaged students within this attainment group have seen the largest gains. Despite these gains, the retention rates for disadvantaged students with the lowest prior attainment are still trailing their peers. This is particularly evident in A level programmes. See section ‘Retention: retention measures by prior attainment’ and ‘Retention: retention measures by disadvantaged status’ for more information. 

Note, the broad increases in headline retention this year could be due to the cancellation of exams, rather than necessarily reflecting a change in behaviour. Students may have been recorded as completing their learning aim  when they may not have finished their course had it continued to the end of the academic year. 

However, Technical certificates have seen a decrease in headline retention this year, continuing the trend of recent years.

Alongside the headline retention measure there are two supporting retention measures:

1) Retained and assessed: The percentage of students who are retained to the end of their course and are assessed.

2) 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.

Retained and assessed

The percentage of students retained and assessed has increased across all study programmes. Whilst A level and applied general programmes have seen relatively small rises this year (1.1ppt and 2.1ppts respectively), tech level and technical certificates programmes have seen larger increases, 4.8ppts and 10.1 ppts respectively. 

Note assessment in 2019/20 for A levels largely reflects students being awarded centre-assessment grades. For vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) awarding organisations were often able to use evidence of work already completed for CAGs, and in some cases adapted assessment meant calculation was not needed at all.

Returned and retained for a second year

A level programmes saw a 3.8ppts increase in the proportion of students returned and retained for a second year. This is similar to the increase seen in 2018/19 where this rate increased by 4.1ppts. In contrast, applied general programmes saw a decrease of 1.0ppt and tech level programmes saw a decrease of 0.1ppts, though both programmes saw much larger falls in 2018/19 for this measure. Technical certificates are not included in this measure as typically they are not expected to be two years long.

The increases in A level students returned and retained for a second year may reflect the reforms to A levels, meaning fewer AS level students in the A level cohort (who are more likely not to return than students who just study A levels).

Retention: Retention measures by prior attainment

Key stage 4 prior attainment is a new addition to the retention analysis this year. The data shows that a student’s prior attainment affects whether they are likely to be retained to the end of their course and in fact has more impact than other characteristics previously highlighted in this publication. Data on retention by gender and other characteristics are included in the featured tables and create your own table section of the publication.

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).

Distribution of students in level 3 programmes of study

The distribution of prior attainment is different for each of the level 3 qualifications. Most students with prior attainment averaging grade 7 or more opt to study A level programmes. Although approximately the same number of students with prior attainment of grade 0 up to grade 4 opt to study A level and Tech level programmes, this group constitutes a much greater proportion of the Tech level cohort.

Prior attainment impact on retention

Overall, students with average prior attainment of grade 7 or more are more likely to be retained in their main programme of study than those with prior attainment from grade 4 up to grade 7. Students with prior attainment of grade 0 up to grade 4 are least likely to be retained. 

This gap in retention rates is particularly pronounced for A level programmes, where prior attainment has the largest impact on retention rates. 

Most students with prior attainment of grade 7 or more opt to study A level programmes. Given the relationship between higher prior attainment and higher retention rates, it is likely that this explains why overall, applied general and tech level programmes consistently have lower retention rates. 

Students with prior attainment of grade 4 to grade 7 generally have similar rates of retention, regardless of programme of study. 

The retention rates for students with prior attainment from grade 0 to grade 4 are higher for students studying applied general and tech level programmes. In 2019/20 the retention rate for A level was 73.8%. For applied general the retention rate was 9.8 ppts higher and for tech level it was 13.6 ppts higher than for A level.

2019/20

Although headline retention rates have increased overall for all level 3 programmes of study compared to 2018/19, the increase has not affected all students equally. Those with prior attainment of grade 0 up to grade 4 have seen the biggest increases in retention rates. For A level this was 1.3ppts (from 72.5% to 73.8% in 2019/20), applied general 1.9ppts and tech level 2.4ppts. 

In contrast, the retention rate for students with prior attainment of grade 4 up to grade 7 was broadly stable as was retention for students with prior attainment of grade 7 or more at A level. (Note caution should be taken interpreting changes in retention for the relatively small number of applied general and tech level students with prior attainment of grade 7 or more).

The supporting measures show a similar pattern with students with the lowest prior attainment generally seeing more positive changes in 2019/20. Notably at A level, there was a 10.0ppts increase for students with prior attainment of grade 0 up to grade 4 in the returned and retained for a second year measure compared to 2018/19.

The impact of prior attainment on the supporting measures is greater than for headline retention. The gaps between the highest and lowest retention rates are wider. 

Retention: Retention measures by disadvantage status

In 2019/20 the retention rate for disadvantaged students increased slightly more than for non-disadvantaged students across all level 3 programmes. Technical certificate programmes however, saw a decrease in retention for both groups, with non-disadvantaged students seeing a larger decline.

For A level programmes the gap between non-disadvantaged and disadvantaged students was 6.3 ppts in 2019/20 (compared to 6.9 ppts in 2018/19). This is wider than for the other programmes of study.

Relationship between prior attainment and disadvantage for retention in A level programmes

The retention rates for students studying A level programmes with known prior attainment and disadvantaged status are broadly in line with what we saw in 2018/19, except for disadvantaged students with prior attainment from grade 0 to grade 4. Here the retention rate has increased by 4.3 ppts to 71.0%. The increase in retention for this group of students is largely responsible for the overall narrowing of the gap in retention between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students at A level.

Students with prior attainment of grade 7 or more have high rates of retention at A level regardless of disadvantaged status

Data on other programmes of study and on the additional retention measures can be found in featured tables or by using the create your own table section of the publication.

Retention: Retention measures by institution type

Retention rates for 2019/20 are broadly similar to 2018/19 for both state-funded mainstream schools and FE sector colleges. Notable exceptions are tech level and technical certificate programmes in state-funded mainstream schools where larger changes are seen. Tech level programmes saw an increase of 2.1ppts while technical certificates saw a decrease of 3.0ppts in their headline retention rates.

Larger year on year changes were seen in the retained and assessed measure across study programmes and institution type. Technical certificates saw the largest change. FE sector colleges saw a 11.5ppt increase whereas state-funded mainstream schools saw a 7.9ppt decrease in the retained and assessed rate. (Note caution should be taken interpreting changes in retention of the relatively small number of technical certificate students in state-funded maintained schools). 

Overall, state-funded mainstream schools perform better in the retention measures for A level programmes. FE sector colleges, however, generally perform better in the retention measures for vocational and technical study programmes. Most notably this year, the retained and assessed rate for technical certificates was 31.8ppts higher for FE sector colleges than for state-funded mainstream schools. This gap has increased from 12.4ppts in 2018/19. 

KS5 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. The TMs for 2019/20 have been extended to include subjects from tech level and technical certificate qualifications. 

Note that the 16 to 18 outcomes here will also be impacted by the different process to award grades in 2020, which is likely to impact the relationship between outcomes and KS4 prior attainment in 2019/20 for subjects.

The TM data and details on how to use them are available for download from the ancillary data section.

Help and support

Methodology

Find out how and why we collect, process and publish these statistics

National 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
  • meet identified user needs
  • produced according to sound methods
  • well explained and readily accessible

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.

Contact us

Ask questions and provide feedback

If you have a specific enquiry about A level and other 16 to 18 results statistics and data:

Attainment statistics team

Email
Attainment.STATISTICS@education.gov.uk

Telephone: Michael Greer
0370 000 2288

Press office

If you have a media enquiry:

Telephone
020 7783 8300

Public enquiries

If you have a general enquiry about the Department for Education (DfE) or education:

Telephone
037 0000 2288