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A-level trends: What this year’s results tell us

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Here are six trends in this year’s A-level results:

1. Spanish on the up

Two years ago, Spanish overtook French to become the most popular language at A-level.

The gap widened in 2020 and grew even larger this year, with 9,139 entries for Spanish compared with 8,383 for French.

Fewer students have completed French A-level, while Spanish has seen numbers increase
Fewer students have completed French A-level, while Spanish has seen numbers increase

The number of French A-level entries has now fallen by more than a third (36%) in the past decade, though the total for 2021 was up very slightly on 2020.

Meanwhile German continues to decline, with just 2,708 entries this year, a drop of 5% on last year, and down by nearly a half (48%) since 2011.

(PA Graphics) (50084600)
(PA Graphics) (50084600)

2. Drama’s decline comes to a halt

A-level drama spent much of the past decade in decline, with entries tumbling 40% between 2011 and 2020.

But 2021 brought a surprise: a tiny rise in entries, up 1% from 9,590 to 9,645.

This is even more notable given drama students will have had a particularly tough time over the past two years, with the Covid-19 lockdowns likely to have seriously disrupted activities such as rehearsal and performance.

There was no sign of an end to the long-term decline of music, however.

Entries were down again in 2021, though only by 0.2%, and have now fallen 44% since 2011.

(PA Graphics) (50084868)
(PA Graphics) (50084868)

3. Computing continues to show biggest gender imbalance

Once again, computing was the A-level subject that recorded the biggest gender imbalance towards males, with boys making up 85% of entries and girls 15%.

Last year the split was 86%/14%.

The biggest imbalance towards females was in the relatively new subject of health & social care.

In the double award for this subject, girls made up 96% of entries and boys just 4%.

(PA Graphics) (50084866)
(PA Graphics) (50084866)

4. Girls overtake boys in top grade for maths

A-level maths female students have overtaken their male counterparts for the first time in terms of A* grades achieved.

Some 29.1% of girls were awarded A*, compared with 28.5% of boys.

A decade earlier in 2011, the figures stood at 17.1% of girls and 18.2% of boys, with boys holding a small lead all the way up to and including 2020.

(PA Graphics) (50084864)
(PA Graphics) (50084864)

5. Nearly half of all London entries received the highest grades

Every region of England recorded a year-on-year rise in the proportion of entries awarded A or A*, but London saw the biggest jump of all, up from 40.7% in 2020 to 47.9% in 2021.

This means nearly half of all A-level entries in the capital were given the highest grades.

North-east England saw the lowest percentage awarded A or A*: 39.2%, up from 35.6% last year.

In Northern Ireland more than half (50.8%) of entries received A or A*, up from 43.3% in 2020, while the percentage for Wales rose from 41.8% to 48.3%.

(PA Graphics) (50084862)
(PA Graphics) (50084862)

6. The decade’s winners and losers

Ten years ago around one in six A-level entries, or 16.5%, were in the three main sciences: biology, chemistry and physics.

By 2021 that figure had risen to around one in five, or 20.7%.

Over the same period the proportion of entries in English language and literature has shrunk from around one in 10 (10.4%) to one in 13 (7.5%).

The decade has been favourable for business and economics.

These two subjects accounted for 6.2% of entries in 2011 and 8.7% in 2021.

But the future seems less rosy for the performing arts and media.

Subjects in these areas made up 7.3% of entries a decade ago.

In 2021 the figure stood at 4.6%.

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