THE NUMBER of students achieving the top grade at A-Level has fallen for the first time in 21 years, new figures showed yesterday, as more than 300,000 candidates picked up their results.
Business groups heralded the drop in A*s and As from 27 to 26.6 per cent, saying it helps employers separate high-flyers from the pack.
“Companies tell us that they have had a hard time assessing the skills and abilities of job candidates with A-Level passes,” said the British Chambers of Commerce. “An end to grade inflation will improve business confidence in the qualifications achieved by young people.”
Meanwhile the boys overtook the girls at the very top of the results table. Eight per cent of male candidates achieved the A* grade, introduced in 2010 to flag up the top performers, compared to 7.9 per cent of female students. However, more girls than boys clinched A grades.
Mathematics enjoyed a minor comeback, with almost 86,000 students sitting exams in the subject, compared to 83,000 a year ago.
Ucas, the universities application body, said 362,000 students have already been accepted for courses, including 3,700 through the clearing process. Total applicants are down 7.7 per cent on a year ago.
With university fees hitting £9,000, many A-Level students are opting to move directly into the world of work. PwC said it has seen a 34 per cent rise in applications for its school-leaver scheme this year, while the CBI called on the government to better prepare school students for working life.
“A lot of employers are trying to snap up people at the school leaving point,” said James Callender, managing director at recruitment firm FreshMinds Talent. “I think they welcome the end of grade inflation... though candidates should remember it’s not all about the grades.”
CASE STUDIES: WORK AFTER A-LEVELS
Andrew has barely had time to celebrate his A-Level results; he’s already working hard on a tax apprenticeship in PwC’s Belfast office. He was offered a place at a top university, but was eager to start a career in professional services instead. “I certainly don’t feel that I will be missing out on ‘the university experience’ as there are huge social opportunities within the company and within our particular department,” he said.
Conor joined Deloitte’s Bright Start programme in September 2011, keen to earn money rather than spend it on university. He is due to qualify with the Association of Taxation Technicians in May, with the chance to embark upon further study. “I do the same sort of work as the graduates – it’s challenging, but so far has been very rewarding,” he said. “I don’t have any regrets about not going to university. I would definitely recommend this path.”
Rachel decided to enter the world of work aged 18 instead of going to university. Having won a place on the Co-operative’s apprenticeship scheme, she now works full-time at the firm’s head office in Manchester, assisting with marketing support for the Co-op’s retail outlets. She has achieved an NVQ Level 2 in business administration, and plans to pursue a career in marketing at the firm.