A-level results: Fewer students accepted on UK degree courses - but numbers second highest on record

Learning over lockdown, the class of Covid finally has their A-level results. ITV News' Ellie Pitt reports

The number of students accepted on to UK university degree courses has fallen from 2021 - but this year's figure is the second highest on record, Ucas figures show.

A total of 425,830 people have had places confirmed – down 2% on the same point last year, according to data published by the university admissions service.

This is compared to 20,360 students who have not got a place this year, Ucas said, down from 24,260 in 2019.In 2021, a record 435,430 people, from the UK and overseas, had places confirmed.

Neil Connery reports for ITV News from Solihull Sixth Form College where "for many it's been a morning to celebrate".

This year’s figure is the second highest on record - and up 16,870 compared with 2019 when exams were last held.

Ucas anticipates either record or near-record numbers of students to get onto their first-choice courses.

Despite this, the process will not be “pain-free” for all, as many students opening their A-level exam results across England, Wales and Northern Ireland on Thursday morning may be in for disappointment as grades are anticipated to be lower than they were during the pandemic.

This year’s grades aim to reflect a midway point between 2021 – when pupils were assessed by their teachers – and 2019.

Those hoping to secure a place at university are expected to face tough competition, with institutions announcing they'll be more conservative in their offers this year.

The number of students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds to gain places on courses is 6,850 this year, up by 3,770 in 2019.

Ucas said this translates to a narrowing of the gap between the most and least advantaged, with the ratio at 2.36 in 2019, 2.29 this year, and 2.34 in 2021.

The number of students accepted this year is the second highest on record. Credit: PA

Ucas announced that 19% more 18-year-olds in the UK have achieved a place at either their first or insurance choice this year, compared with 2019.

And international students account for 12.3% of the total full-time undergraduate applicants accepted through Ucas this year, down from a high of 14.7% in 2019.

Places for students from China, India and Nigeria are all up – increasing by 35%, 27% and 43% respectively.

Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant said that for those who didn't get a spot at the university they wanted, there are more than 27,000 courses available in clearing.

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She said: “Today we have seen more students progress compared to the last time students sat exams.

“This year has seen a growth in the number of 18-year-olds in the population, which will continue for the remainder of the decade, and creates a more competitive environment for students in the years to come.

“While many will be celebrating today, there will be some who are disappointed.

“My advice is to take advantage of the wide range of choices on offer, which includes over 27,000 courses in clearing, along with a range of apprenticeship opportunities.”

Meanwhile, A-level results for 2022 have revealed boys are narrowing the lead held by girls when it comes to the top grades.

The chief executive of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA), Donna Stevens, said she is “particularly thrilled to see girls thriving and to see boys catching up”.

The proportion of girls who got A or higher this year was 37.4%, which is 2.2 percentage points higher than boys (35.2%). Last year, girls led boys by 4.8 percentage points.

Boys have also narrowed the gap in the highest grade, A*. The proportion of girls getting this grade is 0.4 percentage points higher than boys in 2022 compared with a 1.3 percentage points difference last year.

In Hull, ITV's Good Morning Britain, captured the moment several students opened up their exam results.

Most achieved the grades they needed, though there was some brief disappointment as one unfortunate student missed out on the results he wanted.

However, he will still be able to attend university after being made an unconditional offer earlier in the year.

Elsewhere, in Cardiff, an 18-year-old boy managed to score four As in his A-level results, while his father is fighting in the war against Russia.

Zorian Tytych, who volunteered as a translator to help Ukrainian families alongside his education, has now earned a place to study Biological Sciences at Durham University.

Zorian Tytych studied for his A-levels at Cardiff Sixth Form College while his parents stayed in Ukraine. Credit: Cardiff Sixth Form College

Meanwhile, a teenager who commuted from London to school in Bristol has won a place at the University of Oxford.

When Martha Heaps’ family moved from the West Country to Highbury in north London during lockdown, the 18-year-old did not want to disrupt her studies at St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School in Bristol.

For two years she either studied remotely from her home in Highbury or travelled more than 100 miles to stay with friends, in Bristol, when she attended classes.

Now the teenager has won a place at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford, to read Mathematics and Philosophy, after getting A*s in English literature, philosophy, mathematics and further mathematics.

Aaran Freemantle worked as a carer through the pandemic and helped to look after his dying grandfather alongside his studies. Credit: PA

Another student, who pulled out of college after the death of his brother before going on to study again, has secured a place to study medicine at Southampton University.

Aaran Freemantle, of Southampton, studied at Peter Symonds College in Winchester, while working as a carer through the pandemic and helping to look after his dying grandfather.

He achieved Bs in mathematics and biology and a C grade in physics and was made an offer under a scheme to widen participation in medicine.

All students should be proud of their achievements, having dealt with disruption to their schooling during the pandemic, Education Secretary James Cleverly said.

He added: “Every single student collecting their results today should be proud of their achievements. Not only have they studied throughout the pandemic, but they are the first group in three years to sit exams.

“For that, I want to congratulate them and say a huge thank you to those who helped them get to this point."

Mr Cleverly assured students that no matter what grades they might get, “there has never been a better range of opportunities available”.

The results will be a testament to students’ resilience and hard work, as well as the efforts of their "outstanding" teachers and support staff, the Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said.

This year's exam results will be 'a testament to students' 'resilience and hard work'. Credit: PA

The school leaders’ union NAHT also paid tribute to pupils for their “resilient and tenacious” approach to meeting the challenges they have faced during Covid.

But Russell Hobby, chief executive of Teach First, said the “sad truth” is that those who do not achieve grades that reflect their true potential “will be disproportionately from poorer backgrounds”.

New T-level results will also be received for the first time by around 1,000 students in England on Thursday.

For the first batch of students to receive the results, 370 (71% of applicants) have gained a place in higher education, the admissions service said.

The qualifications, which are broadly equivalent to three A-levels, offer students practical and knowledge-based learning at a school or college and on-the-job experience.

Either record or near-record numbers of students will get onto their first-choice courses, Ucas anticipates. Credit: PA

Childline said its counselling sessions about exam results worries were higher every month since January compared to the same period in 2020/21, with the greatest number taking place in June.

Shaun Friel, the charity’s director, said: “We hear from lots of children who are concerned about their results and it’s really important they know that there is someone they can talk to who will listen to their worries."

Meanwhile, staff at exam board AQA are taking part in strike action over the next few days and next week when GCSE results are due out.

Unison said the action is planned as part of a long-running dispute regarding pay and fire and rehire threats to staff, but AQA said it had “robust contingency plans in place to ensure that industrial action has no effect on results”.