A Levels 2023: Triumph overcomes adversity

Commenting on the 2023 A Level and Vocation Results, Martin Hodge, Community’s Head of Education Policy, writes: 

The Joint Council for Qualifications has today published the 2023 national results for Post-16 Vocational and Technical Qualifications, and AS and A levels in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.   

Today, it is right that Community Union extend every congratulation to teachers and support staff for their effort and dedication as well as celebrating the achievements of students who have worked so hard to succeed despite the pressures and disruptions caused over the past three years.  And it is especially pleasing to see vocational qualifications and T-Levels afforded the same status as their academic counterparts. 

Despite the impact that Covid-19 and recent industrial action has wrought on these students, there has been increasing pressure on the regulator OFQUAL to return A Levels to their pre-pandemic levels in England (Wales and Northern Ireland have taken a more sensitive approach).   

Therefore, despite concerns from teachers and students, grade distribution is expected to return to 2019 levels.  It is important to note that this does not mean that students have performed worse than in previous years, nor does it mean that their staff have prepared them less well.  This is a political decision and it is likely to hit disadvantaged students the hardest. 


Despite concerns there has been an increase in grades compared to 2019 (the last year exams were taken before the pandemic), with results at A* up by 1.2 percentage points to 8.9%.  Overall results A*-E were only slightly down at 97.3% – a fall of 0.3 percentage points however this does continue the downward trend in results as dictated by the return to pre-pandemic grading. 

English and Maths 

Mathematics continues to be the most popular subject at A Level and entries continue to rise with 1.3% more students taken the subject compared to 2022 and Economics too has seen a significant rise in popularity.  Yet, for the second year in a row, English Literature is not in the top ten of most popular subjects though it has seen a slight increase of 2.7% in entries following last year’s drop of 9.2%. 


The numbers studying for modern foreign languages continues to fall with a drop in entries of 15.9% for German, down to 2358 entries and drops of almost 11% for both French and Spanish.  Spanish remains the most popular of the modern foreign languages with 8,110 entries. 

Science and Technology 

Computing has seen the biggest increase in entries (16.7%) with 18,306, and science in general remains consistently popular with 20% of all entries.  Biology attracted a 3.7% increase to 74,650 entries and Chemistry a 4% increase to 61,284 entries. Physics, however, saw a 3.4% decline down to 38,379 entries.    


Art and Design retains its place in the top ten of A levels with 43,464 entries, other arts subject such as Drama and Music continue to see a significant decline with Drama down 7.6% since 2022 and music falling similarly. 

Vocational & Technical 

Over 255,000 VTQ results have been published today, with over 23,500 receiving top grades.  T-Levels were assessed using formal assessment for the first time with entries in Business, Admin and Law reaching 61,200.  The overall pass rate remains high at 90.5% with 69.2% achieving merit or above. 


Praise and Reward 

Despite the successes of many, in any exam season there are always some young people who will be disappointed with their grades, particularly given the adjustment undertaken to reduce grade inflation.  It is reassuring to note that in 2019, pre-pandemic, around three-quarters of UK 18-year-old applicants were placed at their first-choice university.   

No matter what the statistics may say, it is important that we do not undermine the very real achievement of this cohort of students.  It is important to recognise the adversity that has been overcome and to applaud this year’s achievement for the genuine success that it is.   

Well Done! 

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