2023 A-Level Results: What’s Wrong With The UK A-Level Grading

As the educational landscape continues to evolve in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the impact on students’ A-level results remains a topic of interest and discussion. Teenagers who were in Year 10 when Covid struck have faced unprecedented challenges, from disrupted classroom learning to the cancellation of GCSE exams. In this article, we delve into several essential takeaways that shed light on the shifting trends and patterns in A-level grading across the UK.

A-level grading

Table of Contents

Adjusting Expectations: Top A-Level Grades See a Downturn

For the second consecutive year, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland have witnessed a decline in the proportion of top A-level grades, specifically A* and A grades. The 2023 A-Level results revealed that 27.2% of all grades achieved this distinction, a figure that closely resembles the 2019 statistics. This shift is a significant departure from the peak years of 2021 and 2022, which reported 44.8% and 36.4% of top grades respectively.

Regional A-Level Grading Disparities: Wales and Northern Ireland

It’s worth noting that Wales and Northern Ireland have demonstrated a more gradual decline in top grades than England. These regions’ phased approach to returning to 2019 levels has contributed to the variation in grading outcomes. While Wales saw a drop from 40.9% to 34%, and Northern Ireland from 44% to 37.5%, England’s steeper decline from 35.9% to 26.5% highlights the challenges of aligning grades with past standards.

The Geographical Divide Persists

Even before the pandemic, regional disparities in A-level performance were evident across the UK. The Covid-induced disruptions exacerbated these differences, particularly the North-South divide in England. In the North East, top grades stood at 22%, while London and the South East outperformed with figures exceeding 30%. These discrepancies underscore the impact of regional prosperity on educational outcomes.

So What's Wrong with the A-Level Grading System in the UK?

Although all the universities are aware of the different approaches in different nations, some parties are still unsatisfied with the disparity. In fact, the Higher Education Policy Institute thinks that England should not have tried to return to normalcy so quickly. 

On one hand, many students actually stay in their home nations when it comes to choosing a university. So this mitigates the disparity issue. On the other hand, if universities were to have standard entry requirements for all students, wouldn’t it be unfair? 

If the Wales and Northern Ireland grade profiles had been the same as England’s, then in both countries over 37 per cent of A levels graded A* or A would have been downgraded. On reasonably plausible assumptions, the proportion of students in Northern Ireland getting the 3 A grades needed for medicine might be twice that in England.

Privilege and Performance: A Glimpse at Private and State Schools

The gap between private and state schools’ A-level performance remains a point of concern. In 2023, 47.4% of private-school candidates secured A* and A grades, compared to 25.4% in academies. While this gap has slightly narrowed since the peak of teacher-assessed grading in 2020 and 2021, it remains wider than pre-pandemic levels. Disparities in resources and support during lockdowns have contributed to these disparities.


In conclusion, the evolving trends in A-level grading across the UK underscore the far-reaching impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the education sector. From the decline in top grades to the persistent disparities between regions, schools, and genders, these insights offer a glimpse into the complex interplay of factors shaping students’ academic journeys. As we continue to strive for educational equity and excellence, these observations provide valuable context for understanding the shifting educational landscape in the UK.

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