Level 3 attainment at 19
As shown in the table below, Level 3 attainment at age 19 has fallen for the second consecutive year in 2018/19. In 2016/17, which was the series peak, and in earlier years, this increased on an annual basis (apart from in 2015/16). Despite the recent falls, Level 3 attainment at 19 has increased by 18 percentage points compared with 2003/04 (when the series began) and by 6 percentage points compared with a decade earlier.
Level 3 attainment at 19 by qualification type
As shown in figure 1, the overall increase in Level 3 attainment at 19 between 2003/04 and 2016/17 has been mainly driven by a rise in vocational qualification attainment.
However, Level 3 attainment at 19 has declined by 1 percentage point since 2016/17, and this has been driven by a fall in AS level(1) and vocational qualification attainment (although this has been offset in part by a rise in A level attainment).
The fall in AS level attainment coincides with the decoupling of AS levels from A levels as part of reforms which started in the 2015/16 academic year. This has resulted in AS results no longer counting towards an A level (and AS levels becoming standalone qualifications), which has led to a reduction in AS level entries (see Revised A level and other 16-18 results in England, 2017/18 for more information). In turn, this had resulted in a fall in Level 3 attainment via AS levels, with just 0.3% of 19-year olds having achieved Level 3 through this route in 2018/19(2).
(1) In these statistics AS levels count for 25% of Level 3 and can be aggregated, so that four AS levels or two AS levels and one A level (which counts as 50% of Level 3) are counted as achievement of Level 3.
(2) This figure does not include those who may also have achieved Level 2 via two (or more) A levels, as the statistics are recorded in a prioritised order, with Level 3 via A levels superseding Level 3 via AS levels.
(3) These are based on qualifications held at 19 prioritised in the following order: A levels, International Baccalaureates (displayed in the ‘Other’ category), AS levels, Advanced Apprenticeships (displayed in the ‘Other’ category) and Vocational Qualifications.
Level 2 attainment at 19
As the table below shows, there have been consecutive annual falls in Level 2 attainment at 19 since 2015/16. Prior to then, there were consecutive annual rises, with the series peaking in 2014/15. Despite the recent falls, Level 2 attainment at 19 has increased by 17 percentage points compared with 2003/04 and by 3 percentage points compared with a decade earlier.
Level 2 at 19 by qualification type
Published for the first time in this release are figures on Level 2 by qualification type at 16, to provide more insight on reforms introduced further to Professor Alison Wolf’s review (4), which changed how vocational qualifications count in Key stage 4 performance measures from the 2013/14 academic year.
As the figure below shows, the 4 percentage point fall in Level 2 at 19, between 2014/15 and 2018/19, has been driven by a decrease in the attainment of large vocational qualifications by the same cohort at 16. Whilst these qualifications still count as Level 2 in these statistics, they no longer count in Key stage 4 performance measures. Or, if they still do, they no longer count as equivalent to more than one GCSE. This has significantly reduced the offering and take-up of large vocational qualifications at Key stage 4.
However, the fall in Level 2 via vocational qualifications at 16, between 2014/15 and 2018/19, has been partially offset by an increase in Level 2 at 16 via GCSEs. Therefore, it is probable that at least some, but not all, of the pupils who would otherwise have achieved Level 2 via vocational qualifications at 16 are instead achieving Level 2 via 5 GCSEs at the same age.
(4) See: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-vocational-education-the-wolf-report
(5) These are based on qualifications prioritised in the following order: GCSEs, Apprenticeships (displayed in the ‘Other’ category), Vocational qualifications, Level 3 qualifications (displayed in the ‘Other’ category) and combinations of qualifications (displayed in the ‘Other’ category).
The impact of the reforms on these statistics may now be starting to settle. As Table 2 shows, compared with the annual Level 2 falls in 2016/17 and 2017/18, the fall in 2018/19 is smaller. Linked to this, for the same cohort, whilst there has been a slight annual fall in Level 2 at 16 via vocational qualifications (-0.3 percentage points), this is smaller than the annual falls in 2016/17 and 2017/18 (-5.5 and -3.0 percentage points respectively).
As figure 2 above shows, the attainment of Level 2 via vocational qualifications between ages 17 and 19 has remained stable since the reforms, so whilst these large qualifications are mostly no longer being achieved at 16, they are still being achieved post-16.