Biggest ever rise in A-level pass rate

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The Independent Online

A-level results for up to 300,000 pupils, published today, show the biggest percentage rise in the overall pass rate in the history of the exam – with girls tripling their existing lead over boys in obtaining A grades.

A-level results for up to 300,000 pupils, published today, show the biggest percentage rise in the overall pass rate in the history of the exam – with girls tripling their existing lead over boys in obtaining A grades.

The figures show the pass rate rose 4.5 per cent to 94.3 per cent – an increase twice as large as the previous highest rise in the pass rate in the 51 years since the exams were introduced.

However, it is almost entirely accounted for by a drop of six per cent (47,500) in the number of entrants, indicating that thousands of pupils dropped subjects they did badly in at AS-level in their first year rather than struggle on. The overall numbers passing the exam remained the same.

School and college principals said last night that many of Britain's universities were now offering places to pupils with AS-level passes, instead of the usual three A-levels. They added that the shake-up in the exams system was hastening the advent of a two-tier university system, with the older universities still relying on multiple A-level passes.

Celebrations over this year's figures were muted, though, by a crisis in maths. There were 12,300 fewer entries for the subject this year, a drop of nearly 20 per cent. This has been attributed to a harder than expected AS-level maths exam last summer, which saw a failure rate of 30 per cent and led many to quit the subject.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, called the situation a "serious crisis" that could put higher education and Britain's economic performance at risk.

Ministers have conceded that the AS-level is too hard and have ordered a review of the syllabus.

However, John Milner, of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, which represents exam boards, called the results "clear evidence" that AS-levels were offering alternative routes to higher education for pupils. He dismissed claims that standards had fallen, saying: "I can look all of you in the eye on behalf of the awarding bodies collectively and say standards are being maintained and achievement is rising."

Mr Milner went on to urge teachers to encourage youngsters to pursue the other options now open to them if it looked as though they would struggle to pass A-level subjects.

However, Ruth Lea, of the Institute of Directors, said: "Another record-breaking year for A-level pass rates is symptomatic of endemic and rampant grade inflation. A-levels used to be highly discriminatory gold standards, selecting undergraduates for a highly selective university system – not any more.

"They are now designed for an age of mass entrance into universities ... They have been dumbed down."

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