A-levels 2021 in Wales: Grades above pre-Covid levels
Nearly half of this year's A-level grades were top A* and A grades in Wales, the official results show.
A total of 48.3% of grades, decided by teachers, were A* and A after what exam awarders called "challenging circumstances" due to Covid-19.
There was an increase at A* with 21.3% of candidates getting this grade, compared to 16.3% in 2020.
Altogether, 99.1% achieved A* to E passes.
Official results for A-levels, AS, the Welsh Baccalaureate and vocational qualifications were released on Tuesday.
But most Welsh pupils were given their provisional grades in June.
Education Minister Jeremy Miles, praising students, said they had to make sacrifices.
'Negative focus' on grade inflation
"I hope everyone who received their grades today feels immensely proud of their remarkable achievement," he said.
Addressing concerns about grade inflation, he added: "The question is - do we have a system which we can all have confidence in which has reflected the attainment of individual learners and is consistent?
"And the answer to that is yes."
Qualifications Wales chief executive Philip Blaker called it "an academic year unlike any other".
Sally Holland, the children's commissioner for Wales, praised young people for their "remarkable" achievements this year.
She went on to criticise the "negative focus on grade inflation" after 44.8% of students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland received A* or A grades.
Ms Holland said questioning the validity of the results risked "dismissing the huge learning curve our young people have been on and the skills and resilience they've developed in this period, while ignoring the inbuilt inequalities of much of the pre-pandemic exam system".
Results across Wales were expected to be higher than pre-pandemic levels after exams were cancelled and final grades based on assessments by teachers.
Samuel Dinnage will now study acting at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire after achieving a distinction in his UAL Level 4 professional diploma in performance at Gower College in Swansea.
He told BBC Wales it was a "nice surprise" because, unlike his friends, he "did not know what grade he would get".
For Samuel, the pandemic made studying performance very "different".
"We were acting on Zoom… I had to use a lot of the wifi at home," he explained.
"We didn't have an audience for our final show."
After three years of applying to drama schools, his result had made him "really happy and confident" and he is "looking forward to the next steps".
Fellow student Eleri Thomas is heading to Cardiff University to study history after securing three A* grades in history, sociology and law.
The 18-year-old, from Loughor, Swansea, described the past year as "weird".
"Sometimes it has been a bit more challenging because you don't get the support of your friends in the classroom when we're online," she told BBC Wales.
"But there have been advantages because we have been able to contact our teachers from home and not necessarily have to just rely on ourselves.
"In terms of having these provisional results, I think it helped eased my stress a lot."
Ciara Bibey, an A-level student at Coleg y Cymoedd, in Nantgarw, said she was very proud to have received two A*s and two Bs in biology, chemistry, psychology and the Welsh Baccalaureate while working part-time at McDonald's.
"Trying to balance work and studies at the same time was really difficult, but I managed to do so," she said.
"I think we all deserve the grades. The majority of our learning was online and we didn't get that in-person teaching experience, so it was very difficult."
Nearly half of this year's A-level grades were top A* and A grades in Wales, official results show.
However, avoiding the "chaos" of last year's results has been a priority after protests led to ministers ditching an algorithm which downgraded thousands of results.
- There were 48.3% top grades, up on last summer's figure and a substantial increase on the 27% of A* and A grades in 2019
- Girls outperformed boys at grades A by 6.2 percentage points. The difference at A* is 0.9 percentage points. But the overall pass rate is broadly similar
- 37.1% of all AS level grades awarded were A in Wales this year, compared with 29.5% in 2020
- 82.9% of candidates achieved a pass in the Advanced Welsh Baccalaureate
Results day at Gower College, at times, resembled the pre-pandemic version.
Groups of teenagers gathered outside in the sun, envelopes in hand, taking photos and discussing plans.
But there were strict Covid measures still in place inside and fewer nerves for A-level and AS students who had sight of their grades two months ago.
All in education are emphasising those individual achievements.
But ministers and qualifications bodies will also have to unpick the implications for the system of two years of substantial hikes in grades.
What happens next year if exams are back?
Education Minister Jeremy Miles told me the priority will be, as it was this year, to make sure young people are not disadvantaged.
But as last year's results showed, balancing individuals' achievement with the 'integrity' of the system has many pitfalls.
One deputy head teacher insisted schools had gone "above and beyond" to ensure results are robust.
"The important thing is to celebrate the success of students," said Matt Salmon, of Swansea's Olchfa Comprehensive School.
"And to make sure we don't lose sight of the fact that these are the right results for the students on the back of what can only be described as an incredibly challenging GCSE and A-level experience for them."
Mr Salmon, also vice president of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) Cymru, said he had more confidence in this year's system than last year when results decided by teachers were downgraded by what he called "the horror of the algorithm".
"I don't think anybody ever wants to repeat that," he said.
'We've been challenged as hard as other years'
Ifan Gwyn, 18, from Ruthin, hopes to study physics at a university in London and feels this years' cohort deserve their grades after so much lost learning.
"We've been challenged just as hard as other years," he said.
"We've missed loads of school, had to adapt really quickly to online lessons, lessons being cancelled at a minute's notice and we've still been given assessments which have challenged us throughout the year."
A-level student Shenona Mitra, 18, from Bangor, said it had a been a hectic and unsettled year.
She said she felt anxious about her results, though her provisional grades mean she is set for a place at medical school after studying biology, chemistry and maths.
"It was a big thing at GCSE, we all went into school and got letters - but I don't think that's going to happen this year," she said.
"There's definitely a bit of apprehension but I'm looking forward to finally seeing that I've got my place at university."
Oscar Ffredwyn Jones, from Gellilydan near Blaenau Ffestiniog, is spending the summer working at Portmeirion, in Gwynedd, before heading to university with an unconditional offer.
He said: "I'm feeling quite confident about it - you're fairly certain of what grades you're going to be getting [so] I don't think there'll be any surprises."
'Hugely difficult circumstances'
Commenting on the results, Dr Patrick Roach, from NASUWT - The Teachers' Union, said students and teachers had worked "extremely hard to secure this year's results in the face of unique and hugely difficult circumstances".
School and college staff "deserve recognition of the huge pressures and additional workload they have faced" over the past 18 months, he added.
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