A-level: Top marks in Wales fall for third year

Results for A* and A grades are lower than the UK average, but more students passed the Welsh Baccalaureate

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The number of Welsh pupils receiving the highest A-level grades has fallen for a third year although those who passed has risen slightly.

The number of pupils who gained A* to E grades went up from 97.2% last year to 97.6% this year.

Results for A* and A grades are lower than the UK average, but more students passed the Welsh Baccalaureate.

Education Minister Leighton Andrews said it was "positive" to see the pass rate improving.

The total number of A-level entries in Wales this year fell by 1.9% to 37,150 - the decrease largely caused by a fall in the number of entries by boys.

These students at Yale College in Wrexham were celebrating top grades These students at Yale College in Wrexham were celebrating top grades

The proportion of candidates gaining grade A* fell from 6.3% last year to 6% this year, compared to the UK average of 7.9%.

It means there is a 1.9 percentage point difference between Wales and the UK average - the same as last year.

The percentage of students gaining A* and A grades also went down, from 23.9% last year to 23.6% this year - the lowest figure since 2006.

The UK average was 26.6% (A*/A), although that figure is also lower than for 2011.

Therefore there is now a 3 percentage point difference between Wales and the UK average. Last year it was 3.1%.

Analysis

Students this year will be the first who have to pay up to £9,000 per year for their course, instead of the previous figure of about £3,500.

But students from Wales will have the rise in fees paid for by the Welsh government, wherever they choose to study.

There was a surge in applications last year as people tried to avoid the higher fees.

But latest figures from Ucas show overall university applications from people in Wales this year fell by 2.9% - that equates to about 700 less people.

It's significantly lower than the 10% fall in applications from people in England.

The statistics also show that whilst there's been an increase in Welsh students applying to study in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland - 5% fewer have applied to stay at home and take up a course here.

Welsh students take the Welsh government fee grant with them, wherever they choose to study so it means the money's being spent outside of Wales.

Does that matter? In March, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales estimated that £77m would be spent on the policy in Welsh universities - and £34m would travel with students to institutions outside of Wales.

But it expects UK students to bring £55m with them when they start courses here in Wales.

However there has been an improvement in A* to C and A* to B grades - although Wales still lags behind the UK on both measures.

Last year, there was also a rise in the overall pass rate for Welsh students, but the number achieving A* and A was below the UK average.

The Welsh government said that was because Welsh Baccalaureate results were not included in the figures.

This year, a total of 8,259 candidates were awarded the Advanced Diploma, compared with 6,948 in 2011, representing an increase of almost 20% over the number successful last year.

Mr Andrews, who joined pupils at Caerleon Comprehensive School in Newport as they picked up their results, said the percentage of pupils achieving top grades in England had also fallen.

"We have to remember that in England of course there's a much higher proportion of young people who are educated in expensive, fee-paying schools. We don't have that in Wales," he said.

"These are very good results. We have got an increase in numbers who will be able to qualify for university, supported of course by the fact that the Welsh government will be paying the cost of the higher tuition fees."

Clearing process

Pupils who go on to university will be the first to be charged higher fees - some as high as £9,000 per year for their course.

A-LEVELS FACTFILE

  • 49.9% achieved A*-B - up 0.7% on last year. UK stands at 52.6%.
  • 75% achieved A*-C grades - up 0.9% on last year. UK stands at 76.6% - up 0.4 on last year.
  • There was a small improvement in the proportion of students gaining grade B or above - from 49.2% last year to 49.9% this year.
  • Two subjects with noticeable growth at A and AS level were Mathematics and Religious Studies, with Maths displacing English as the largest entry subject at both levels.
  • Sources: Welsh government/WJEC

However, Welsh students will not have to pay more than the previous fee of around £3,500 a year - with the shortfall being met by the Welsh government, wherever they choose to study in the UK.

Mr Andrews said that the Welsh government was confident it could afford to meet the higher fees "all the way through to the next assembly election".

Applications to all Welsh universities were down compared to last year and all the institutions were expected to have places available for pupils going through the clearing process.

University of Wales Newport said it may have double the number of places available compared to last year, while Aberystwyth University said it will be part of the clearing process for the first time in three years.

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