A-Level results day 2021: record numbers awarded A and A* grades

Nearly 45% of pupils achieve top grades, sparking grade inflation concerns

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The number of pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland who achieved top grades in their A-Levels has reached a record high.

Almost 45 per cent achieved either A or A* grades in results released on Tuesday, eclipsing the last year's record of 36.5 per cent.

The numbers could fuel concerns that 2021 would feature rampant grade inflation after exams were cancelled and replaced with assessments by schoolteachers.

With pupils last sitting traditional exams before the pandemic, Tuesday's results mean the number of A and A* grades has increased by 75 per cent.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson commended pupils for their achievements in what he called " a very challenging year".

Grade inflation fears dispelled

Criticism that the record results are not a true barometer of student ability, and will be deemed less credible by employers as no exams were taken, was swiftly rebutted by Joanne Elliott from the National Careers Service.

"I don't know many people who have to do exams as part of their job, unless they have taken part in training," she said. "It could be argued that [teacher-graded assessments] are much closer to what happens in the working environment."

Exams regulator Ofqual also defended accusations of grade inflation.

"We've always said outcomes from this year were likely to be different," said its interim chairman Simon Lebus, as he moved to reassure would-be students, universities and employers that teachers' assessments were fair and could be trusted.

Pressure on universities to meet demand?

It is not only grades that set a record – the number of pupils applying for university also reached a new high.

The combination of record grades and record demand is likely to put pressure on the UK's higher education sector, with 396,000 students already confirmed on their first-choice course – another record.

Ofqual had predicted the scramble for places would mean an unprecedented number of applicants landing places through clearing.

"Are there going to be hotspots potentially where it is much more competitive? Absolutely," its chief executive Clare Marchant.

Universities UK earlier on Tuesday sought to reassure students that increased competition would jeopardise their chances of enrolment.

Alistair Jarvis, the body's chief executive, told the BBC he was confident the "vast majority" would be accepted and that universities were well-prepared for the heightened demand.


Business reacts to bumper year

A-Levels are one farther step along the path to the world of work, and Matthew Fell of the Confederation of British Businesses reacted enthusiastically to the results and the demand for university places, particularly in the Stem subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths.

“It’s fantastic to see uptake of maths, computing and sciences increase, with students performing well," he said.

"As digitisation and automation change how we work, equipping young people with these skills will help them to succeed and ensure firms can reap the benefits of new technology.”

Mr Fell had words for encouragement for students who were disappointed with their marks.

“Regardless of the outcome, young people should remember that qualifications are just one of the factors employers look at when recruiting," he said. "Businesses value the resilience students have demonstrated throughout the pandemic enormously, alongside skills like creativity and teamwork."

For students without the grades to enrol at university, there was a reminder from City & Guilds about vocational education.

Young people should "explore all the options open to them", including apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships, it said.

A-Level results day 2021: by numbers

Updated: August 10, 2021, 1:23 PM