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Successes and caps - this year's A Level results

13 August 2015

Congratulations to all the staff and students in our colleges on another fantastic performance in A Levels this year. There are a few specific disappointments of course with the highest grades declining for the fourth year and modern languages continuing to decline. However, with the pass rate up, maths and sciences growing, and more students progressing to higher education (HE) than ever before it can rightly be claimed that a good job has been done. Though there are some broader, related issues that will continue to challenge us all. Our A Level students are in demand. The cap on student recruitment to HE will be removed this year and don’t we know it! Principals have been telling us that the number of unconditional offers has rocketed. Feedback from colleges this year has identified 14 universities using this approach. These include Nottingham, Leicester and Birmingham. Colleges are concerned that clumsy use of unconditional offers may lead to students taking their foot off the pedal or even dropping subjects. If a student does not maximise their grade potential it could haunt them later with postgraduate or employment opportunities. This is why the Association of Colleges (AoC) wrote to all colleges on this issue in June. Nationally it is expected that about 5% of offers will come through unconditional offers. Some commentators describe this as the last set of results before reforms kick in. How wrong they are, as colleges have had to deal with significant changes in qualifications for five years. Indeed, Ofqual’s annual survey of perceptions of the examinations system highlighted the concern of many parents, teachers and employers of constant changes and of the pace of change. This year will see the results at GCSE of changes already made to English. At A Level we have seen the removal of January examinations. Prior to that there was the introduction of A* grades, more difficult questions and the reduction of assessment units from six to four. The new reforms are part of yet more uncertainty. There will be 13 new, reformed subjects this year, eight in 2016 and 22 in 2017. As the reforms are phased, students in the current years 7, 8, 9 and 10 will all face different choices. Colleges are also concerned about the quality of marking at GCSE and A Level. I anticipate the highest ever number of appeals this year. The number of appeals has already doubled over the last three years. Last year saw 45000 corrections. This prompted Ofqual to launch a review into the quality of marking. AoC will continue to work closely with the boards and colleges on this issue. Indeed this will be highlighted at our Annual Conference later in the year.