AS and A-Level results announcement – 13 August 2020

The Association for Science Education (ASE) wishes to congratulate AS level, A level and Scottish National and Higher level science students and their science teachers across the UK on the release of the 2020 examination results in what has been an unprecedented year.

With the cancellation of examinations due to Covid-19, we welcome the confidence that Ofqual, SQA and JCQ have placed on schools and colleagues to make considered centre assessment grades and we are proud to recognise the professional judgement of teachers in determining fair, accurate and holistic assessment grades and ranked ordering of students, drawing on the full range of evidence available and moderated by consensus.

Whilst we are concerned that examination results are comparable across years in the interests of fairness to all students, we have been pleased to note Ofqual’s comment on the standardisation process adopted for 2020: ‘Given the exceptional circumstances this year, we have prioritised fairness for students over the precise alignment of standards with previous years. For this reason, wherever possible, we’ve taken decisions which will act in students’ favour.’[1]

The Association has also been concerned that the approach taken this year might exacerbate gaps in attainment between different groups of students, potentially impacting negatively on already disadvantaged young people. We have been reassured by initial findings from Ofqual that ‘gaps in attainment do not appear to have systematically increased’[2] and that SQA are addressing criticisms in Scotland, as a top priority, on greater reductions in Higher pass rates through the moderation process for students in the most deprived areas compared with those from the most affluent backgrounds. Tackling inequality in education remains a major concern to us all.

While we understand the intention in England and Northern Ireland behind the very recent introduction of the mock exam component (‘triple lock’), and in Wales of the promise that A level grades will be no lower than AS level grades, to give young people added security, it is currently too early to assess the impact this will have on overall grades, associated fairness and allocation of university places for courses starting this autumn.

While issues have already been highlighted with the use of algorithms to moderate grades across centres, we would strongly encourage a wider review of this year’s process to identify elements that have been successful and could help to make our examinations system more robust going forward. The review should also consider how other countries have managed this process.

 

Responding to today’s release of A-Level grades, Hannah Russell, Chief Executive at the ASE said:

‘The need to adjust assessment methods so radically compared to the current systems in place was always going to be challenging and news stories in recent days have reflected a sense of concern and confusion among both teachers and students. However, it is important that we do not forget the immense efforts of science leaders and teachers in supporting their students through this difficult time and of course the efforts and achievements of the students themselves.’

Marianne Cutler, ASE Director Curriculum Innovation added:

‘Although the emphasis at this time is on examination results, young people’s engagement with STEM subjects and the multitude of further education, training or employment opportunities using their science knowledge, understanding and skills will have been developed throughout their courses by inspiring and knowledgeable science teachers and technicians. We wish all students receiving science examination grades during August the very best as they embark on the next stage of their education or career.’

Notes from Ofqual media release:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/guide-to-as-and-a-level-results-for-england-2020

Sciences

While overall total science entries (biology, chemistry, physics) fell in 2020 to 158,976 from 167,244, a 4.9% decline, they still accounted for over 20% of all A Level entries (20.4% in 2020, down from 20.9% in 2019)

• biology entries declined by 6.0% to 65,057 from 69,196 in 2019 (63,819 in 2018)

• chemistry entries declined by 5.2% to 56,026 from 59,090 in 2019 (54,134 in 2018)

• physics entries declined by 2.8% to 37,893 from 38,958 in 2019 (37,806 in 2018)

Female entries fell by less than male entries, and females now account for 50.9% of science entries, up from 50.3% in 2019.

The proportion of A* grades awarded in biology and chemistry were up marginally in 2020 compared to 2019 but were similar to results in 2018: biology A* grades increased to 7.6% from 7.0% in 2019, but was equivalent to 2018; and A*s in chemistry increased to 8.6% up from 7.6% in 2019, but only marginally higher than the 8.4% awarded in 2018.

Physics saw a larger increase in A* grades, increasing to 10.5%, up from 8.7% in 2019 and 9.4% in 2018. It is worth noting that 2019 saw a decline in science outcomes against the backdrop of increasing entry size.