New high for A-level pass rates

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The Independent Online

Education Editor

Many more students than last year will be told immediately that they have a university place as A-level results published today set new record pass rates.

By yesterday, universities had accepted 118,455 students compared with 84,723 at the same time last year. There are 396,000 applicants for 271,000 places.

Universities have acted quickly because more students have made the grade. For the eighth successive year both the pass rate (at grades A-E) and the proportion of candidates awarded top grades has risen. Around 300,000 students will learn this morning whether they have the grades they need for their chosen university or college.

News of the record results comes as Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, is considering proposals for an inquiry into complaints from traditionalists that A-level standards have fallen. The inquiry, proposed last April, has the backing of both Chris Woodhead, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, and Sir Ron Dearing, the Government's chief adviser on exams.

The provisional A-level figures show the improvement in grades is levelling off: the pass rate is up 0.9 per cent to 84 per cent compared with a rise of 1.8 per cent last year. However, the proportion of candidates gaining A-C increased by 1.1 per cent, with one in seven getting a grade A.

Overall, entries were down 1 per cent compared with a 4.2 per cent drop in the number of 18-year- olds. Entries for maths and physics continued to decline.

Lord Henley, the Education and Employment Minister, said: "The A-level system has stringent quality controls and the examining boards assure us that the results this year indicate standards are being maintained.This is good news. We are not, though, complacent about standards."

George Turnbull, of the Associated Examining Board, believes there has been a genuine rise in standards: "If you were to compare papers from 40 years ago with today's, the conclusion would have to be that today's are much more difficult."

But employers and university dons complain that the standard of their recruits has fallen and that 18-year-olds have poor literacy and numeracy skills.

Analysis of results, page 3