Top grade A-levels in Wales best for eight years

Media caption, There was joy for many but even those who did not get their expected results are hopeful of university places

A-level results for the top grades are the best since 2009 in Wales, according to results published on Thursday.

The proportion of A* and A grades is 25% - 2.7% higher than 2016. The 8.3% of A* grades is the best since 2010 when it was introduced.

This year sees results for 14 new "reformed" A-level courses for the first time.

But the number of entries, 33,294, is the lowest for more than a decade.

The results also show:

  • Wales has closed the gap with the rest of the UK for the top grades and is ahead of all northern and Midland regions of England at A*-A.
  • But for A* to C grades it is still behind all regions of England, apart from the West Midlands and East Midlands.
  • A 1.5% improvement at grade B and 2% at C.
  • For the first time since modern-day records began in 2001, boys in Wales outperformed girls at grades A and A* - 25.1% for boys compared to 24.9% for girls - although this is strongly associated with subject choice.
  • Girls continue to outperform boys at other grades - with the gap of 5.4% the widest at grade C. They also outperformed boys at A* and A grades in English, history and chemistry, although lagged behind in maths and biology.
  • At AS-level - which still applies in Wales and contributes 40% towards the overall A-level result - 19.1% of entries earned A grades, an improvement on 2016.
  • Wales A-level results 2017 - as they unfolded

Education Secretary Kirsty Williams welcomed an "encouraging increase" in the number achieving the top grades, including in maths (19.4% A*), biology (10.2% A*), chemistry (12.2% A*) and physics (10.4% A*).

"We have also seen the results go up across a range of subjects and I want us to continue to build on this," she said.

"I am committed to making sure our education system provides pupils with the skills and knowledge they need for the modern world."

Media caption, Education Secretary Kirsty Williams welcomes a strong set of A-level results

The new A-level exams are in art and design, biology, business, chemistry, computer science, economics, English language, history, psychology, physics, sociology and Welsh language.

The mechanism used to set grades can compensate students when big changes come in - so they are not at a disadvantage.

But the regulator in Wales has not had to intervene.

Philip Blaker, chief executive of Qualifications Wales, said: "We are confident that standards are being maintained.

"The way that grade boundaries have been set for new A-levels this summer ensures that students are treated fairly. They have not been advantaged or disadvantaged by being the first to sit these qualifications."

But the body is to look at why fewer students are taking A-levels, whether they are simply dropping out or choosing more vocational career paths.

There have been declines in students taking some subjects including English (-16%), history (-15%), ICT (-22%) and science (-18%).

Image caption, This shows how Wales is still behind all regions of England apart from two

David Evans, Wales secretary of NUT Cymru said: "Beyond the top grades we have seen similar increases overall and that is great testament to the hard work being put in at our schools and colleges.

"The results represent a great foundation for our youngsters moving forward."

Rob Williams, policy director for the head teachers' union NAHT Cymru welcomed the results but said funding shortfalls were making it increasingly difficult for schools and colleges to make ends meet.

"The Welsh Government needs to work closely with school leaders to implement a realistic long term funding strategy that ensures schools and colleges can continue to provide the very best support to their students in the years to come," he said.

ALTERNATIVE CAREER PATH: Engineering apprentice and toolmaker

Lizzie Roberts started taking history, English and RE at A-level but always wanted to be a toolmaker like her grandfather.

She transferred to Neath College to study engineering instead and it led to an apprenticeship as a toolmaker with Rosti Automotive Canning Brett.

It involves a day release to college to continue her studies - and she already has plans to take a one-year MSc when she finishes.

The 22-year-old from Swansea said university was "not the be-all and end-all."

"You don't have to go down the usual route. I've not got any loan, I'm earning good money - apprentices get paid a lot more than they ever did - and my company is paying for me to go to college."


There has been a 5% drop in applications to universities from students living in Wales via Ucas - 22,530 compared to 23,740 in the same period last year and after four successive increases.

Total numbers applying to Welsh universities has also dropped - including the numbers of foreign students - since 2016.

The application rate through Ucas from 18-year-old students in Wales has fallen from 32.9% to 32.5%.

Image caption, Half way there - pupils at Ysgol Penweddig in Aberystwyth picking up their A/S Level results

Universities Wales said although there had been a slight improvement in applications since January it was still unclear how the pattern would change during clearing.

"A reduction in applications does not automatically mean a reduction in actual enrolments," a spokesman said.

"However, the figures across the UK point to a number of potential challenges emerging, such as underlying population change - in particular the number of 18-year-olds in Wales, which is projected to continue to decline significantly until 2020 - and the impact of Brexit."

The spokesman said student satisfaction remained high.

Image source, Seren Network
Image caption, Bishop of Llandaff, Cardiff pupils Tom Burr and Ben Roberts have places at Ivy League universities in the United States
Image source, Matthew Horwood
Image caption, Vicky Baker and Abu Latif celebrate their A/S Level results at Ffynone House School in Swansea
Image source, Coleg Gwent
Image caption, Katie Higgs celebrates her birthday - and three A* grades at Coleg Gwent

The University of South Wales said it had courses in a range of subject areas "so it is worth applicants contacting us".

Swansea University said it had "limited places available across most subject areas".

Aberystwyth University also has a number of clearing places across more than 100 courses - and is using live chat and Facebook messenger for the first time to offer places.

"We are expecting demand to be high for our science and computing courses, but also for those programmes such as English and creative writing, international politics and geography," said a spokeswoman.

New courses were also being offered through clearing for the first time, including film-making, robotics and embedded systems engineering.

Glyndwr University in Wrexham said it still had places available.

"It's been a very busy day so far, with the first call received around 6.30am," said a spokesman.

"We've been speaking to prospective students from all over the country and the phones have been ringing throughout, so we have been making instant decisions and offers in many cases."

Image source, Aberystwyth University
Image caption, Aberystwyth University is using social media for the first time to make clearing offers


ALTERNATIVE CAREER PATH: Starting a business

Olivia Rees, 20, of Sebastopol, Torfaen, is working part-time and also starting her own business, Caking Sisters, with sister Melissa, who lives in Bristol.

She failed her A-levels but had already had enough of academic study and is now looking to turn a hobby into a full-time business within the next two years.

Olivia said: "Don't panic, it's not make or break if you have only got a D grade. It's not the end of the world, you're just 18.

"Some of my friends went to university really for the sake of going and they didn't know what else to do."

She said she was encouraged by family and friends after taking cakes into school and is now looking to make speciality cakes for weddings and other special occasions.

Olivia still works three days a week in a bridal shop and her boss has helped her as a mentor to learn about marketing, tax and invoicing. She is also saving up for any further courses she might need to take.

"It's long hours - sometimes I'm still baking at 10:30pm - but it's something I want to do."

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