YOUNG VOICES

Changes To A Level Exams Could Favour Boys On Results Day, Say Experts

Around a quarter of pupils are expected to get the top grades.

17/08/2017 09:12 BST

Radical changes to A Level qualifications could help boys outperform their female classmates on results day, experts have predicted. 

Thousands of teenagers will receive their A Level grades today in the first results day since a government shake up of the courses, with modular tests and coursework scrapped in favour of final exams. 

While one in four students are predicted to bag the top grades, boys are expected to beat female pupils when it comes to the number of A*s, the Press Association reported, with one expert suggesting they could also close the gap at the A grade boundary.  

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Experts have predicted the new A Level exams will favour male students 

In 2016, a quarter (25.8%) of A-level entries across England, Wales and Northern Ireland were awarded an A* or A. 

Official figures show that 8.5% of UK boys’ entries were given the highest result of A*, compared to 7.7% of girls’ entries, while there was just a 0.3 percentage point gap at A*-A, with girls ahead on 26%.

According to experts, changes to 13 A level courses - including biology, English, history and physics - could help further boost male sixth-formers results this year. 

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said this was down to all exams being at at the end of the two-year-courses, rather than module tests and coursework. 

When A Levels changed back in 2000, moving towards module tests, it benefitted girls, he said. 

Now that this being reversed, it may advantage boys, particularly in terms of top grades. 

Experts have previously suggested that girls tend to respond to modular courses, as they can apply themselves throughout the course, working towards specific modules or coursework, whereas boys are more likely to revise in the weeks before a final exam.

’’I think cutting to the chase, what happened when A-levels changed from end-of-course to modular, which led to a big gap opening in favour of girls, suggests that the reversion to end-of-course examinations will lead to a narrowing of the gap,” Smithers said.

Changes to A Levels have also led to a major drop in AS Level entries this year, with AS Levels separated out into a separate qualification under the reforms. 

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Around a quarter of pupils are expected to get the top grades this year 

School leaders have warned the change has “sounded the death knell” for qualifications that were traditionally popular with many students and universities alike, with a 42% drop in entries this year.

A snapshot survey of around 170 heads in England conducted by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) found that around two-thirds (65%) have cut the number of AS courses they offer in the wake of the reforms, while 86% said they expect to remove AS courses in the future.

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton said: “It is increasingly clear that government reforms have sounded the death knell for AS-levels.

“AS-levels allowed students to study four subjects knowing they would all count towards a qualification, either an AS-level or a full A-level.

“They were intended as a way of broadening the curriculum and were valued by students, employers and universities.”

He added: “The great benefit of the old system was that it gave students a broader range of knowledge and allowed them to keep their options open for longer.

“The decision to decouple these qualifications was an entirely unnecessary reform which is narrowing the curriculum and reducing student choice.”

Under the previous system, sixth-formers typically took four subjects in their first year of the sixth-form, before deciding which three to continue with to full A-level in their second year.

AS grades were often used by universities in making offers to applicants, as they were an indicator of a student’s final A-level results.

The move to decouple AS-levels proved controversial at the time it was announced, with universities - including Cambridge - headteachers and MPs among its critics.

Ministers argued that universities learn little more from knowing teenagers’ AS-level results in addition to GCSE grades and insisted that the reform should not affect university admissions.