The proportion of top A-level grades handed out this year has increased to more than 44 per cent following the cancellation of exams and switch to teacher assessment grades.

The record-breaking results saw 37 per cent of all A-level students in England get three As or better – more than double the 17.9 per cent in 2019.

And 6.9 per cent of students, more than 12,000, got three A*s, up from 4.3 per cent last year and 1.9 per cent in 2019.

Formal exams were cancelled this year for the second year running following the decision to close schools again in January because of Covid.

Unlike last year, when an algorithm used to standardised centre-assessment grades had to be abandoned at the last minute, this year’s grades were set by teachers and then quality-assured by exam boards via an evidence-checking process.

Data released this morning by Ofqual and the Joint Council for Qualifications shows 44.3 per cent of grades awarded in England were an A or above, compared with 38.1 per cent in 2020 and 25.2 per cent in 2019.

Ofqual said teachers “may have given students some benefit of the doubt across the multiple opportunities many students had to show what they had learned – quite different from end of course exams”.

As well as a boost to the highest grades, results were also higher at grade B and above (69.8 per cent in 2021, up from 65.4 in 2020 and 51.1 per cent in 2019), whereas Ofqual said results were “relatively stable” at lower grades.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL school leaders’ union, congratulated students on their results. But he said it was “invidious to make direct comparisons with other years and vital that we celebrate the achievements of this year’s cohort who have had to endure so much over the past 18 months”.

Ofqual said variation in outcomes between schools this year was “generally lower” than it was in 2019 and “only slightly greater” than in 2020.

This suggests that teacher grades “lessened the impact of the pandemic on centres’ results – otherwise we would expect to see much greater variability in centres’ results this year”, Ofqual said.

Ofqual also said it found “general stability” in the differences in outcomes for students with different protected characteristics, and increases in outcomes for “many groups”. Again, the regulator said this suggested the changes to assessment had “lessened the unevenness in outcomes we may otherwise have seen”.

However, Ofqual did find that the gap between girls and boys had grown, with girls receiving higher grades on average than boys. The average change was a fifth of a grade, the regulator said.

And whereas Ofqual’s model suggested that students with special educational needs and disabilities received slightly higher grades than non-SEND students in 2019, this reversed in 2021, with a change of a tenth of a grade.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service has also reported a record 395,770 students had confirmed places on their first-choice of undergraduate course as of this morning, up 8 per cent on 2020.

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  1. Whilst it is a fact that students have been denied the pre COVID access to face to face teaching these results are embarrassing. Anyone looking at this trend must surely feel very uncomfortable about their true currency and accuracy.

    How can we give any credibility to such a meteoric rise in high grades over such a short period of time when the main difference is the suspension of exams. This will lead future Secretaries of State to doubt our profession and alas we have provided the ammunition.

    I sincerely hope that Ofsted and Ofqual make rapid visits and investigate those institutions that see large drops in high grades in 2021-22 when external exams are reintroduced.