A-level results were released today, revealing an expected growth in the proportion of top A* grades, as well as a slightly smaller rise in the proportion achieving A*-C grades.
Last year, pupils were awarded A-level grades moderated by Ofqual's algorithm, only for these to be overturned when the government U-turned on the issue and mainly awarded centre-assessed grades instead.
This year, after exams were cancelled for the second year in a row owing to disruption wrought by the pandemic, pupils have been awarded teacher-assessed grades based on samples of work they have produced.
Here are the headline figures this year:
More than two-fifths of A-level grades are A or A*
Overall, 19.1 per cent of entries achieved the top grade of an A*, compared with 14.3 per cent last year, while 44.3 per cent of entries achieved an A or A* grade, compared with 38.1 per cent in 2020.
A* rates increased by 4.8 pp from 2020 and A*-A rates increased by 6.3pp in from last year.
At A*-C, there is a smaller but still noticeable rise
There was a smaller rise in the proportion of A*-C grades, with 88.2 per cent of entries achieving this compared with 87.5 per cent in 2020.
The pass rate (A*-E) was actually slightly lower this year than in 2020, with 99.5 per cent of entries achieving this compared with 99.7 in 2020. This could reflect pupils who had missed lots of schooling during the pandemic and lacked sufficient evidence to be awarded a grade, leading to a rise in the number of U grades.
Results by gender
At the top grade, 19.7 per cent of girls were awarded A*, compared with 18.4 per cent for boys – a reversal of the gender gap seen in 2019, when more boys were awarded A*s.
In 2019, the last year when exams went ahead, 8.1 per cent of entries from boys achieved an A*, compared with 7.3 per cent for girls.
At A*-A, girls increased their performance on the previous year by 7pp compared with 5.4pp for boys.
And girls' A* rates increased by 5.3pp compared to males at 4.2pp.
More than nine in 10 (90.4 per cent) girls achieved A*-C grades this year, compared with 85.6 per cent of boys – a widening of the gender gap compared with 2020.
Sciences entries are slightly up on 2020, with 155,857 entered for biology, chemistry and physics this year, compared with 146,474 last year – an increase of 6.4 per cent.
Biology entries were up 7.6 per cent, physics up by 7.4 per cent and chemistry up by 6.9 per cent.
There has been an overall rise in A-level entries for the summer 2021 series compared with last year, with an increase of 5.1 per cent seen, only partly explained by an increase in the population.
All science subjects saw a rise in the proportion of top grades.
In Biology, 44.1 per cent of entries gained an A or A*, compared with 36.8 per cent in 2020.
And 47.6 per cent gained an A/A* in chemistry, compared with 41.9 per cent the previous year.
In physics, 46.1 per cent gained the two top grades compared with 41.2 per cent in 2020.
Entries for art and design are up slightly to 39,293, compared with 38,917 last year.
And 21.5 per cent were A*s, compared with 17.5 per cent in 2020.
In drama, 8,640 entered this year, a slight drop from the 8,667 in 2020.
Just over a fifth - 20.4 per cent - got A*, versus 12.5 per cent in 2020.
Language entries remained broadly consistent. In total, there were 18,611 entries for French, Spanish and German.
Spanish continues to be the most popular MFL A level, with 8,433 entries in 2021. There were 7,671 entries for French, a slight rise on 2020, and German saw a dip with 2,507 entries compared with 2,666 last year.
Spanish also had the highest proportion of A* grades this year – 31.6 per cent – but French and German also saw big increases in the proportion of top grades.
In total, 26.4 per cent of entries in French scored an A*, compared with 20.1 per cent in 2020.
But it was German where there was the largest increase, with 34.1 per cent of grades awarded an A* compared with 22.9 in 2020.
English and maths
Maths entries continued to rise on 2019, with further maths and maths entries rising to 104,858 this year compared with 101,390 in 2020 and 98,695 in 2019.
Girls overtook boys at A* in maths for the first time ever - 28.4 per cent of girls secured the top grade this year compared with 28.3 per cent of boys.
But after English showed signs of recovery in 2020, the proportion entered for English literature, language or literature and language fell to 57,256 compared with 59,801 last year - a fall of 4.3 per cent.
Geography saw the biggest rise in entries of any subject, with 16.8 per cent more than last year.
Meanwhile History saw a big leap in the proportion of A* grades, from 4.9 per cent in 2019 to 11.8 per cent in 2020, rising to 16 per cent in 2021.