Almost 100% of pupils passed their A levels after the government U-turn - but experts say the results are ‘unreliable’

A whopping 99.7 per cent of all A level exams were passed (Photo: Shutterstock)

The UK government’s last minute U-turn on the grading of A level and GCSE results has led to almost 100 per cent of all exams being awarded a passing grade.

This year saw 99.7 per cent of all exams being passed, with nine times fewer failures compared to the year before, new figures from the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) have revealed.

Record pass rates

Almost 40 per cent of A level results were initially downgraded, after grades were calculated using an algorithm that was based largely on schools’ previous results. The system resulted in schools in more disadvantaged areas being penalised, while those in private schools benefitted.

The outcry from thousands of pupils prompted the government to announce a last minute U-turn, allowing results to be based on teacher’s estimates instead.

The decision led to the proportion of A level entries receiving an A grade or higher to soar to a record high of 38.1 per cent in England, compared with the initial 27.6 per cent using the algorithm.

Only a mere 0.3 per cent of grades were failed in total, after the grading system was adjusted. By comparison, this figure was roughly nine times higher in 2019.

The overall pass rate for grades A* to E also rose to an all-time high, at 99.7 per cent in England - up from the original 98.2 per cent when results were first released on 13 August.

Figures show that German, Spanish, classical subjects and performing arts had a 100 per cent pass rate under the new grading system.

Comparatively, History, English Literature and Biology were the hardest hit by the previous downgrades. The algorithm lowered the share of A and A* for History and English Literature down by 36.7 and 37.7 per cent respectively.

Prior to the government’s U-turn, Ofqual had downgraded almost two in five grades in England, equating to around 280,000 entries being adjusted down after moderation.

‘Not reliable’

The significantly high pass rate has led to some education experts branding the results as unreliable, with one leading educationalist stating the new grading now has “little meaning.”

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said the revised proportion of students receiving the top grades was now “staggering.”

Speaking to The Telegraph, he said, “These are not reliable A-level results. These A-levels have little meaning.

“We have gone from something that was unfair, to something that is just as unfair. Ofqual tried to moderate the grades to keep them in line with the proportion of top grades awarded in the last decade.

"But now for political reasons the government has decided to accept teacher awarded grades which are unmoderated. Some teachers have made it their responsibility to give the best possible grades and others have tried to get the grades as accurate as possible.

“As a result we now have some very happy students but difficulties for universities and employers.”

What will happen to university offers?

After the original results were awarded, thousands of pupils missed out on securing a place at their first choice university as they failed to meet the offer conditions. However, the subsequent regrading has meant approximately 15,000 pupils now meet the required criteria, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) .

UCAS said that universities have “exercised flexibility” after analysing the results for 160,000 pupils who received upgraded A levels in England, and 100,000 of these pupils had already secured a place at their first choice institution on results day. Others were forced to accept their ‘insurance’ offer, or secure a place through clearing.

Those who did not receive their first choice will now be entitled to try and improve their options, with the government removing its cap on student numbers to allow more pupils to progress.

Ministers have also appealed to universities to be as flexible as possible when admitting pupils onto courses, stating that they expect institutions to honour all offers that were made.