'Outstanding' Wales A-level results as nearly half of grades A or A*

  • Video report by ITV Wales' national correspondent Rob Osborne

Nearly half of this year's A-level results in Wales are A or A* grades after "an academic year like no other".

The proportion of A-level entries awarded an A grade or higher in Wales has risen to 48.3%, with schools and colleges determining the results for their learners.

This is compared with 41.8% in 2020, and 27.0% in 2019 - although the system used to assess students this year is different from both formal exams and the approach that was used last year. 

This year's A-level results for Wales show that 99.1% of students achieved A* - E grades. There was an increase at A* with 21.3% of candidates achieving this grade, compared to 16.3% in 2020.

The total number of A-level examination entries in Wales this year was 35,867 - an increase of 14.5% relative to 2020, reversing the decreasing A level entries since the summer of 2015.

In Wales, the overall pass rate for males and females is broadly similar with 98.8% of subject entries by males achieving A* - E grades, compared to 99.3% of entries by females.

However, females now outperform males at grades A by 6.2 percentage points and B by 7 percentage points. The difference at A* is 0.9 percentage points.

Hundreds of thousands of students have been given grades determined by teachers, rather than exams, with pupils only assessed on what they have been taught during the pandemic.

Most Welsh pupils were given provisional results from teachers back in June, so for many, today is a confirmation.

Youngsters who miss out on the grades needed to meet their university offers are likely to face greater competition for a place at leading institutions as there could be fewer selective courses on offer in clearing.

Welsh stats at a glance

  • The A-level results for Wales show that 99.1% of students achieved A* - E grades

  • The total number of A-level examination entries in Wales this year was 35,867 - an increase of 14.5% relative to 2020

  • Overall A-level results in Wales are higher at grade A and above compared to 2020 (48.3% in 2021 compared with 41.8% in 2020, and 27.0% in 2019)

  • The AS level results in Wales show that 37.1% achieved grade A for AS and 96.7% achieved A to E

  • 30.0% achieved grade A* or A in the Advanced Skills Challenge Certificate (a major part of the Welsh Baccalaureate)

This year there will not be an algorithm used to moderate grades. Credit: PA

Qualifications Wales called it "an academic year unlike any other" for students.

Chief executive Philip Blaker said: "Following the Welsh Government’s decision to cancel exams in November last year and the subsequent move in January this year to an approach where schools and colleges determine the results for their learners, our priority has been to find the fairest possible approach in these extraordinary circumstances.

“The priority being for learners to make their next steps to higher education, further education, apprenticeships or employment and protect their wellbeing.

“The process has relied on the professional judgement of teachers and lecturers to determine the grades that are appropriate for their learners, placing schools and colleges at the heart of the approach. We would like to thank them for their dedication and hard work in adapting swiftly to the flexible arrangements put in place to enable grades to be awarded.

“Given that a centralised approach, such as exams, was not possible in the circumstances, they have been in the best position to make the right decisions for their learners as they understand the local challenges faced. In the circumstances a one size fits all approach would have presented greater risks to fairness.

“While the overall pattern of results looks different, learners can be confident that the qualifications awarded in Wales this year carry the same value as qualifications awarded in any other year.”

  • What do record A-level grades mean for university places? We find out:

Teachers' union NASUWT said: “Students, teachers and school leaders have 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 in producing centre assessed grades and young people deserve praise for the tenacity they have shown in dealing with the huge uncertainties and anxieties of the last 18 months."

Becky Ricketts, president of National Union of Students Wales, said every single student should be "immensely proud".

But she added:  "I hope institutions are flexible in their admissions processes so that students don’t miss out on places. We can’t afford for any more students to be held back because they were part of the Covid cohort."

Speaking to ITV Wales, Education Minister  Jeremy Miles said the picture in Wales is consistent with the rest of the UK.