A-levels: Maths shoots ahead, independent schools dominate

By Ian Dunt

A-level results published today show maths is sky-rocketing in popularity while independent schools secured disproportionately good results.

The results come despite commentary suggesting traditional academic subjects were in decline – commentary which was given a boost earlier this week when the Tories published answers to parliamentary questions showing that one in seven secondary schools in England had failed to enter pupils for geography or physics exams last year.

Analysis: A levels

Comment: A levels and independent schools

Today’s results also demonstrate the now-expected year-on-year rise in pupils getting an A-E grade.

The number of people passing the tests went up by 0.3 per cent, from 97.2 per cent to 97.5.

Those attaining an A grade went up by 0.8 per cent, from 25.9 per cent to 26.7 per cent.

But the largest increase is in independent schools, which saw a 2.1 per cent rise in grade A.

Dr Mike Cresswell, of the AQA exam board, said: “Independent schools have been continuing to show a higher increase in results since 2002 when the new A-levels were brought in.

“If you took out that affect, you would get a lesser increase.”

Politics dominates A-level results

It has also been argued that many candidates who would have failed A-levels now take AS and drop them after the first year, contributing to the higher percentage pass rates.

But educational professionals berated critics for suggesting the exams were getting any easier.

NUS president Wes Streeting said: “Today’s A-level results should be celebrated, not subjected to well worn claims that the questions and marking systems are getting easier.

“Those who continue to devalue the achievements of A-level students repeatedly fail to recognise that the year-on-year rise in standards has come about because of hard work on the part of the students and their teachers. We should be congratulating them, not cynically undermining their achievements.”

Meanwhile, higher education minister David Lammy said: “I want to congratulate the hundreds of thousands of students who have worked hard and got the grades they needed to go to university this year and with more than 370,000 students having their places confirmed, more students than ever before will be heading into higher education.”

The number of those taking maths or maths-related subjects sky-rocketed.

There was a 1.2 per cent increase in pupils attaining an A in maths.

Compared to 2008, 12.2 per cent more pupils were studying maths, 15.2 more pupils were studying further maths, and 13.2 more pupils were studying economics.

Critics are concerned at the number of university places available this year, however.

“The Government is committed to funding and growing higher education. This is why students this year are taking advantage of the record number of funded places on offer backed by a generous financial support package,” Mr Lammy said.

An extra 50,000 people have applied for university this year, with only 13,000 extra undergraduate places to cater for them.

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Comment: Hands off media studies