2022 A Level grades have fallen again, in line with the UK governments directive that grades should be modelled to 2019 levels, the last year which “live” exams were taken. Exam results in 2020 and 2021 were centre assessed grades (CAG) or Teacher Assessed grades (TAG), and notable grade inflation was a hallmark of this process. It should be noted that 2022 marks a mid-point in this readjustment of grades and that 2019 levels will not be resumed until 2023 at the very earliest.

There has been particular media focus on the increased performance of independent schools in 2020 and 2021, and the resulting drop in grades in 2022 (it should be noted that grade drops were also seen in the state sector).

Private schools saw their top GCSE grades of 7 – 9, fall from 61.2% in 2021 to 53% in 2022, a drop of 8.2%. Comprehensive state schools saw a drop of 2.7% from 26% to 23.3%.

At A Level, top A*/A entries at private schools fell from 70% in 2021 to 58% in 2022. At selective state grammar schools, A*/A grades declined from 57% to 50%. Several private secondaries and some sixth form colleges suffered a particular decline in top grades, where grades declined from 90% to 30% in 2022.

However, this A Level decline in top grades across both the private and state was contextualised by Education Datalab. They observed that while the top A*/A grades percentages for 2021 and 2022 showed a decline in the private sector, it should be noted that generally privately educated students were around 20% more likely to receive an A/A* grade in 2021 than in 2022, but the same was also true for pupils at academies, comprehensive schools and secondary moderns.

Turning to the University and College Admissions (UCAS) service Clare Marchant (CEO) reassured students that that a near-record number would receive their first choice on A level results day. However, Marchant acknowledged that the proportion of applications which would result in an offer had fallen to 66.4%, down from 72% in 2019. Marchant acknowledged “unpredictability” but reassured candidates that 2022 admissions would be more precise and that many universities would make decisions “prior to results day”. As a result of this conservative approach, fewer offers had been made to prevent the oversubscription of 2021.

As a result, August 2022 saw 425,830 students being accepted by universities and colleges. This is the second highest number ever (up 16,870 compared to 2019, the last time formal exams were held). This is 2% lower than the highest level seen in 2021, where students were awarded places based on teacher assessed grades.

International students made up 12.3% of applicants for full-time undergraduate courses, down on 14.7% in 2019. The 2022 decline in European applicants has been compensated for in a rise of applicants from China (+35%), India (+27%), and Nigeria (+43%).

A larger than average 2022 cohort of UK students has also put pressure upon places at university. This was exacerbated by impending changes to the UK Student Loan system (for 2023) have caused many to drop the idea of a gap year. Therefore 2022 has been one of the hardest years to secure a place at university. The demand for places and the need to try and identify top students through their UCAS personal statement and interview (if required) means that top grades alone will no longer suffice to guarantee a place at a chosen university.

Lee Elliot Major (professor of social mobility at Exeter University) has said “Make no mistake, 2022 marks the beginning of a new tougher era in university admissions. A perfect storm of factors makes this the most highly competitive race for applicants in living memory.” Professor Major warned of a new and highly competitive era lasting for decades.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Every year there is competition for places at the most popular universities and on the most popular courses, but government works closely with the higher education sector to ensure students are able to progress to high-quality courses that lead to good outcomes.”

For more expert advice, guidance, and comment, please contact Steven, our Senior Educational Consultant, at steven@educationadvisers.co.uk / +44(0)1622 813870 to discuss how Education Advisers Ltd can support your pathway to university.