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.