Six candidates are chasing every place on offer through the university clearing system
Up to six candidates are chasing every place available through the university clearing system today as the best qualified cohort of A-level students in history fight for entry to a degree course.
A-level results released today showed a record 26.7% of papers awarded an A grade – up 0.8 percentage points on last year – and a 97.5% pass rate. For the first time, three-quarters of entries were awarded a C or better.
The record results added to the pressure on the university admissions system as the applications service, Ucas, confirmed that the highest ever number of candidates have secured a place at university upon receiving their grades.
But after a 10% hike in applications, 135,000 also fell short of their marks and have qualified for clearing, the system for allocating the estimated 22,000 leftover places – meaning around six students are chasing every remaining place. At this point last year, 109,000 students were in clearing, but there were 44,000 places on offer.
The intense competition for places this year prompted warnings that universities could become increasingly dominated by the middle classes, reversing a trend towards widening participation in recent years. Students with lower exam results, disproportionately from state schools, could be squeezed out of the race for a place. For the first time, more than 50% of A-levels taken in private schools scored an A grade, compared with 20% of those taken in comprehensives.
The government faces accusations this morning that it has betrayed its commitment to expanding higher education by refusing to fund extra places in the recession.
Brian Cantor, vice-chancellor of York University, said: "We are not accepting as many students as are sufficiently qualified to get a good education at York because we haven't got the extra places. In a year when jobs are hard to come by, its a real shame. Capping the numbers prevents further widening participation."
By 11am today, there were very few places left available at the elite institutions, with University College London, London School of Economics and Imperial College all declaring themselves full. Bristol was advertising just one course – audiology – through clearing, but there were still places available on some courses at Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool universities.
However, the most intense activity was happening at universities outside the Russell Group of research-intensive institutions. Birmingham City University said it had taken nearly 1,000 calls since 6am when its hotline opened for students chasing a place. Coventry University said its courses were filling up rapidly.
The exam boards revealed today that the gap between results in state and private schools is widening, with more than 50% of A-levels sat in private schools awarded an A grade.
Mike Cresswell, chief executive at the exam board AQA, said: "The biggest improvement is in independent schools. These variations are not explicable by a bit of dumbing down in the woodwork."
He insisted the variance in A grades across different subjects did not mean that some subjects were easier than others. "There are no easy options at A-level," he said.
The improvement in results was welcomed by the government and teachers, who said it was testimony to the hard work of pupils and schools, but it will inevitably spark another row about exam standards as the pass rate edges towards 100%.
The gap in results between girls and boys narrowed, with a 0.3 percentage point decrease; 27.6% of all entries for girls scored an A, compared with 25.6% of all boys.
There are signs of pupils abandoning so-called soft subjects, with big drops in the numbers sitting A-levels in general studies, computing, PE studies and performing arts.
Meanwhile, there was a 15.2% increase in the numbers sitting further maths and a 12.2% increase in entries for mathematics A-levels, as well as another rise for physics. It is the fourth year in a row that maths entries have increased. Economics and politics entries also increased markedly.
There were falls in entries for French, by 3.7%, and German, by 7.7%, but a rise in those sitting Spanish and community languages.
Jim Sinclair, director of the Joint Council for Qualifications, said: "These are excellent results. They are the outcome of the hard work of students and teachers, who deserve to be congratulated. It is particularly good to report improved uptake and outcomes for mathematics and science."
Iain Wright, the schools minister, said: "Critics who belittle better results and imply that the only way to measure a successful education system is by young people failing A-levels are insulting the hard work of students and teachers and the great support that parents give their children during these difficult qualifications.
"The bottom line is that post-16 education is no longer the preserve of the elite and privileged few – more students than ever before are carrying on studying until 18."
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) said: "For all those critics who can't bear the idea that the improvement in A-level results is attributable to the hard work of young people and their teachers, they should have a look at the trend in improvement in the so-called hard subjects of mathematics and science."
Hope all you UK ONTD_Pers got the results you wanted!