At AS-Level, this year’s results include the final set of subjects to be reformed, the most significant of which in terms of student numbers is mathematics. This is the culmination of a process which began back in 2016 and which has seen the three administrations of the UK that offer A-Levels go off in different directions.
Whereas AS-Levels continue to count towards students’ A-Level grades in Wales and Northern Ireland, they no longer do so in England. In effect, they are now standalone qualifications.
As the charts from our microsite show, there were fewer AS-Level entries in Wales and Northern Ireland in 2018 than in 2015, but the rate of decline has been nowhere near as rapid as that in England.
In England, entries have fallen by at least 80% in all major subjects reformed in 2016 and 2017 with the exception of sociology.
On the surface, entries appear to have held up slightly better in subjects reformed in 2018, such as mathematics. However, this is because resits in legacy specifications are still being included. Provisional data on AS-Level entries published by Ofqual [XLSX] earlier in the summer showed that 17–year-olds were responsible for just a quarter of the roughly 71,000 entries in AS-Level maths in England.
So who is still entering AS-Levels?
Given Ofqual’s approach to maintaining standards known as comparable outcomes, comparing attainment in AS-Levels in 2018 with that in 2015 might tell us something about how the Key Stage 4 attainment of current entrants compares to the past.
In subjects reformed in 2017, attainment at AS-Level was slightly lower in 2018 than in 2015. Among subjects reformed in 2016, attainment at AS-Level was even lower, which suggests that they are tending to be taken now by students with lower levels of prior attainment in the past. Perhaps some decided not to continue on to the second year of A-Level but wished to gain a qualification in recognition of a year’s work.
We will ignore subjects reformed in 2018 as – as mentioned above – this year’s results are based on a mixture of reformed and (resits in) legacy specifications.
There are some notable variations between the subjects reformed in 2016.
As the chart below shows, attainment in computing actually improved between 2015 and 2018. However, attainment in biology and chemistry fell markedly, which suggests that the composition of entrants in terms of Key Stage 4 attainment is quite different from the past. Either that or examiners really have picked up a change in standards.