Top grade A-level performance falls in Wales

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Media captionHappy faces - the waiting was finally over across Wales

The proportion of Welsh students gaining top A-level grades has fallen, although the overall pass rate has stayed stable.

The percentage of A* or A grades is 22.7%, down from 23.1% and the lowest since 2010 when the A* grade came in.

The overall pass rate stayed at 97.3%.

Exam board WJEC called the fall in top grades "disappointing" while the education secretary said some subjects could learn from improvements in maths and history.

A-level performance remains lower than England, which remained at 98.1% while top grades were down 0.1% on 2015.

As thousands of students collected their results, the main points are:

  • The number of A* grades for Welsh students is 6.6%, down, from 7.3% last year which was the highest level since 2010
  • At the top A and A* grades, Wales is again outperformed by all regions of England, apart from the north east
  • Wales has the lowest percentage of A*-C grades - 73.8 - of any area - including every English region
  • Slightly more students got D and E grades in Wales than last year - 23.5%, up 0.5%
  • Wales is outperforming England in maths still but is lagging behind in English
  • The Welsh Baccalaureate was graded for the first time last year, with the percentage of those achieving the top grades significantly higher this year - WJEC said it was probably due to increased familiarity with the new grade system
  • Apart from at the highest A* grade, girls continued to outperform boys with 97.9% gaining A*- E grades, compared to 96.5% of boys

As well as overall grades, there is always interest in performances in the most popular A-level subjects - maths and English.

More students in Wales have been getting top grades in maths over the last six years than in England - and this continues with 43.2% getting the top grades in Wales compared to 41.6% in England.

But in English, Wales has been trailing and there is still a gap of 3.2% with those students over the border.

There have also been more students getting D and E grades in English (23.2%) than those getting A* and A (15.9%).

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Media captionEducation Secretary Kirsty Williams said she would look closely at the results

Education Secretary Kirsty Williams said: "The number achieving the highest grades is encouraging, we can be proud of our pupil's performance in maths and the progress when it comes to the Welsh Baccalaureate.

"However, there are some areas where we are not where we would want to be.

"I will be looking closely at the full details of these results and those we expect next week to see what lessons we can learn and what we can do differently.

"Our performance at the top grades in maths show what Wales can achieve."

For the first time this year, students got their results for 14 new AS subjects including English, Welsh, history and the sciences.

These qualifications are usually taken by 17 year olds a year into the A level course and account for 40% of the final grade. AS-level passes were up in Wales, including 18% getting the top A grade.

Image caption This shows A* to C grades compared with different regions

Wales has the lowest percentage of A*-C grades - 73.8 - of any area - including every English region.

It also has the lowest for A* and A - apart from the North East of England.

Gareth Pierce, chief executive of the WJEC, said comparisons with England had been fairly similar over a number of years.

"Maybe there are questions that Wales needs to look at in terms of the extent of investment in excellence of provision which includes everything from the opportunity to study and the teaching workforce," he said.

A-levels in Wales: All you need to know

Shadow Conservative education minister Darren Millar said: "While our students and teachers are due congratulations, the first minister and his cabinet secretary for education deserve no such praise.

"Their failure to close the gap on educational standards is a damning indictment of their ability to properly govern the nation.

"It is frustrating to see that the number of students achieving the highest A-level grades is down, marking a consistent year-on-year decline - and yet again we are being outperformed by the rest of the UK."

Plaid Cymru's education spokesman Llyr Gruffydd said the drop in students gaining the top A* or A grades further underlined the need to introduce curriculum, teacher training and professional development reforms.

"These are all important to ensure the Welsh education system improves," he said.

Image copyright Matthew Horwood

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) cautioned against sweeping conclusions.

"We will have to examine the reason for the marginal fall in the very top grades, although it should be recognised that last year's result was the high water mark for these grades since 2010," said David Evans, secretary in Wales.

Rob Williams, Welsh director of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) praised the collective effort of students and teachers but said: "One area of potential concern is the decline in entries to certain subjects at both AS and A Level - including French, drama and music.

"Plans for the new curriculum in Wales call for balance and breadth and schools will need support in order to ensure that this can be achieved."

Altogether there are 23,740 students from Wales applying to universities in the UK, around half of them 18-year-olds who picked up their results on Thursday.

So far, 16,600 students from Wales have secured places, which is the highest number at this point for five years.

Around 4,000 are now using the clearing system to find their university place.

Ucas says clearing has "transformed into a respected and important route" into higher education but Welsh universities have been finding competition tough from colleges in England.

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Media captionA guide to A-level results and how to survive them


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