United Kingdom

A-level grades could be replaced with numbers to end ‘free-for-all’ system

Nearly half of A-levels – 44.8 per cent – were given an A or A* this year (Picture: PA)

A-levels could face an overhaul as critics claim two years of grade inflation has resulted in the system ‘descending into meaningless’, it has been reported.

Alphabetical grades could be scrapped and replaced with numbers in the biggest shake-up in 70 years.

It comes as nearly half of all A-levels were awarded an A or A* after exams were cancelled again this year – a surge from 38.5% last year and almost double the top marks given out pre-pandemic.

The gap between private and state schools grew wider in 2021 with 70.1% of all A-levels awarded an A or A* compared to 39.3%.

A former chief examiner claims the Government had allowed the gold standard qualification to transform into ‘a free-for-all’ system.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson insisted employers could have ‘real confidence’ in the results as he was forced to defend teacher-assessed grades yesterday.

But a Department of Education source told The Telegraph a ‘big conversation’ had already been sparked in Government as ministers ‘don’t want grade inflation to continue’.

Saying officials wanted to move back to exams, they added: ‘We need to push on and make sure we get back to pre-pandemic levels. Changing the actual grading system – like when GCSE grading was changed – would take a while to implement.

‘There is debate to be had about that, and we would need a consultation. We are not ruling it out.’

Senior Tory MP Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Education Committee, warned on Tuesday grade inflation is ‘baked’ into exam results due to Covid.

Shalayna Morton reacts as she finds out her A-level results at the London Academy of Excellence Tottenham (LAET) in north London (Picture: AFP via Getty Images)
Students at Archbishop Blanch School in Liverpool, receive their A-level results (Picture: PA)

He said: ‘It is going to be hard to unbake that. A-levels were seen as the gold standard of qualifications, but now they are losing their currency. It will take a very long time to bail this one out.’

Meanwhile, Neil Sheldon, a former chief examiner, said: ‘It doesn’t make sense to say 45 per cent of students are worth an A or A*. If you are trying to say that this is the same level of achievement as it was in 2019, it just isn’t true. It’s as simple and blunt as that.’

Mr Williamson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme his team is looking at different measures to keep the system fair.

He said he wants to see students sitting GCSEs and A-levels next year – but there will likely be ‘adjustments and mitigations’ to ensure fairness to those currently in Year 10 and 12.

He said: ‘There are a whole range of policy options we can look at in terms of actually making sure there is a feeling and understanding of the difference between grading where we are currently and grading where we are in the future. So that’s something we are looking at in great detail.’

Asked whether he would consider a switch to a numerical grading system, he said this kind of change would ‘take a little bit longer to be implemented’ and would not be seen at next year’s exams if it did go forward.

An Ofqual spokesman said: ‘We have no plans to change the A-level grading system.’

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