From education to employment

A level and BTEC #Resultsday2018 – Sector Response

Today (16 Aug) marks the first results of 12 more reformed A Levels, following the introduction of the first reformed exams last year. Under these reformed A Levels students are examined after two years helping them build an in-depth understanding of the subject, better preparing students for future study or the workplace. This follows universities saying many students lacked some of the skills and knowledge essential for undergraduate learning.

Today’s A Level results show:


Maths continues to be the most popular subject at A Level, with the number of entries up 2.5% on last year – up 26.8% compared to 2010. Maths, has increased its examination numbers by 10.9% in five years, and 51% in ten years.


Entries into STEM subjects continue to rise, up 3.4% on last year and up 24% since 2010. More young people than ever are studying STEM subjects, up by 8.9% over five years, and 36.8% in ten years.

Whilst there has been an increase in entries to STEM A Levels by girls, up 5.5% from last year and 26.9% since 2010, The proportion of women entering STEM subjects has only increased slightly over the past 5 years, from 42.0% in 2013 to 43.4% in 2018.

dr Mary Bousted 100x100 edited 1Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) said:

“It is good that entries to STEM subjects continue to rise and although there are more males than females taking these subjects, female entries are increasing. Despite far fewer female entries in physics and D&T, this year they have achieved higher grades than males.”


John Cope100x100John Cope, Head of Education & Skills policy, CBI, said:

“Firms will be delighted to see more girls taking up STEM subjects and performing well.  This must mark the beginning of the end for ridiculous gender stereotyping.

“Diverse companies perform better than their rivals, so tackling gender stereotypes is not just the right thing to do, it’s imperative for our country’s economy.”


Computing entries have seen the biggest change of the STEM subjects – an increase of 173% in five years – entries in 2018 are almost three times the number in 2013 – up from 3,758 to 10,286. The number of women entering Computing has increased five-fold in five years from 245 in 2013 to 1211 in 2018.

Males might have gained better A Level results overall, but women studying computing have outperformed men in this typically male-dominated subject. Overall 20.1% of girls achieved an A* or A in computing, compared with 17.9% of boys.

Hilary Stephenson100x100Hilary Stephenson, Managing Director, Sigma comments on the positive computing A Level results:

“With the gender skills gap still an ongoing issue within the tech industry, it is really encouraging to see that female students have outshone males in this year’s A Level computing results. However, we are a long way off fully resolving this issue. More needs to be done to encourage women to pursue a career in tech, starting with breaking down the stereotype that tech is a ‘man’s world’. 

“This must start from an early age, with children taught about the benefits of technology-related vocations in the classroom. Providing children with inspirational female tech figureheads is also key to increasing their interest in this industry. In doing so, it is far more likely the next generation of tech talent will be more gender balanced.”

dr Mary Bousted 100x100 edited 1Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) said:

“It is positive to see that computer science entries have increased (by 24%). However, it is a shame that the Government didn’t listen to the profession when it chose to discontinue GCSE and A-level ICT. At the time we said that this decision could disadvantage females, as they are usually less likely to take computer science than ICT, and this is borne out in the entry patterns – 88% of entries were males.”

Arts and Language Subjects

The STEM increase comes against falls in Arts subjects. When looking over five years, English is down 19.5%, Drama is down 18.9% and Media Studies is down 12.8% Over ten years those drops are 19.2%, 32.8% and 22.5%. DfE say the proportion of entries to art and design, music and modern foreign languages remains broadly stable.

dr Mary Bousted 100x100 edited 1Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) said:

“It is encouraging to see that more students are studying maths and sciences at A-level, and that this is increasing year-on-year. It is worrying, however, that there continues to be a decline in students studying languages such as French, Spanish and German, as well as in history, geography and, unusually, English, which are all important subjects to gain access to university or work.


John Cope100x100John Cope, Head of Education & Skills policy, CBI, said:

“While those taking modern foreign languages have done well, the marked drop in entries is of real concern.  If the Government’s vision of a ‘Global Britain’ is to be meaningful, uptake of languages must increase to support trade and business.

“CBI data shows that only a third of companies think that school and college leavers entering the jobs market have adequate foreign language skills.  With French, German and Spanish most commonly mentioned by firms as in demand, the Government’s new Modern Languages Excellence Centre with regional hubs need to address this issue.”

Biggest Improvement

Yorkshire and the Humber has seen the biggest improvement in entries achieving top grades (A* and A).

John Cope100x100John Cope, Head of Education & Skills policy, CBI, said:

“The familiar story of London and the South East powering ahead has continued, with the North and the Midlands lagging behind.

“If we are truly going to deliver on the shared vision to close the learning gap, Government and business must work together to tackle regional variations head on. 

“The first step from Government needs to be addressing well-known education cold spots by delivering on their “Opportunity Areas” initiative. And more business must get into the classroom, offer more work experience and mentoring opportunities.”

Russell Group

Over half of the entries were in subjects that open doors to the widest range of courses at Russell Group universities, with the proportion continuing to rise year on year.

Grade Stability

In the second year of reformed A Levels, the percentage of UK entries awarded the A* grade remains stable at 8.0% this year, compared with 8.1% in 2010 and the overall UK pass rate remains stable at 97.6%, compared to 97.9% last year.

Sector Response to today’s A Level Results

Simon Ashworth 100x100AELP chief policy officer Simon Ashworth said:

“On A level results day, it’s particularly disappointing to have further confirmation that the levy reforms have led to a massive drop in apprenticeship starts which mean opportunities are limited for those young people who want a debt-free alternative to university.  The picture looks no better for those getting their GCSE results next week who will want to start earning while learning instead of staying on in sixth form or college.

“When ministers return from their holidays, they really must get a grip on this if they are serious about social mobility and improving ‘home grown’ workforce productivity in a post-Brexit economy.”

kirstie donnelly 100x100Commenting on the 2018 A-level results, Kirstie Donnelly, Managing Director of City & Guilds and ILM, said:

“Now more than ever, young people have access to an array of different routes into education and employment. While A-Levels or GCSEs may be exactly the right approach for many, these should not be seen as the only way to gain employment or a successful career. If we deter young people from alternatives to academia, it’s not just them that will suffer, but UK businesses too.”

“Our recent research has highlighted that the UK faces a significant shortfall of skilled and talented people, with ongoing uncertainty around Brexit set to exacerbate this. It’s essential that young people understand the full range of options ahead of them, which can pave a way into industries including engineering, construction, hospitality, media or the built environment sector.”

“Parents too, need to be more aware of the current reforms to technical education in the UK, so they can fully understand the expanded role schemes like apprenticeships can play in businesses. These have traditionally long been associated with low wage jobs – but this is simply no longer the case. Technical routes into the workplace can give young people the skills they need to enter some of the UK’s most exciting industries.”


Charlie Mullins 100x100Charlie Mullins, CEO and founder of Pimlico Plumbers, said:

“Sadly, for many UK students on this A level results day, further education is the only option on their minds. But there is more to life than academic careers and the Government knows that vocational training delivers actual job-related skills – and if we don’t manage to dodge the Brexit bullet we’re going to need more locally trained trades men and women than ever before.

“So don’t panic if you’re struggling to imagine life after A levels. There’s still time to decide what you want to do and plenty of options like apprenticeships that give you the kind of valuable real-life skills that higher education simply can’t offer. Not to mention that you can earn money while on the job rather than accumulate debt that you’ll never pay off!

“Let’s face it, university isn’t right for everyone; and neither should it be. The key ingredients for success are not university grades but your determination and enthusiasm on the career path you’ve chosen. It’s a winning formula: apprenticeship, qualification, experience. You can’t go wrong.

“Do an apprenticeship, get a trade – you’ll never be out of work and you’ll earn loads of money. That was the motto drummed into me when I first set out and I’ve never looked back since.”

Samuel Leach100x100Samuel Leach, Director, Samuel & Co. Trading, said: 

“You don’t need good A-levels to get your dream job. Thursday 16th will undoubtedly be looming over A-level students across the UK , but, whether they get the results they hope for or not, they shouldn’t feel it will prescribe their professional futures.

“A-levels are often viewed as necessary achievements on the route to university, which is perceived as a springboard into a good job, but higher education isn’t the only way of building a career. The workplace is changing, and performance at school, and university attendance, are no longer considered the be all and end all for many employers, who recognise that academic performance isn’t necessarily an indicator of an applicant’s workplace potential.

“Similarly, academic success is in no way essential for those hoping to become entrepreneurs. Just look at Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson. None of them completed degrees, yet they’ve gone on to become some of the best-known names in the world for their career success.

“Mindset is the most important thing for realising your ambitions, not a piece of paper  that tells you if you can or can’t do something. By the age of 18, we hear the word ‘no’ an average of 15,000 times and the word ‘yes’ just 5,000 times—our nation’s young people must have the conviction to go after the careers they want regardless of whether they get the results they wanted next week.”

Amanda Brown100x100Amanda Brown, deputy general secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“Congratulations to the students and staff who have worked so hard to achieve today’s results.

“However, changing the assessment of A-levels so they focus on high-stakes exams taken at the end of two years of study does not allow students to properly demonstrate their ability and puts them under huge pressure. Coursework and other non-exam assessments are a better way for students to demonstrate their skills, are less of a memory test, and help lower attaining students and those with special educational needs and disabilities show their achievements.

“Teachers have told the National Education Union about seeing increases in mental health issues among students who have multiple qualifications assessed in this way (New GCSEs and-A levels are damaging students’ mental health).

“We are also seeing the narrowing of the options available to students. Decoupling AS-levels from A-levels has led to most students now only studying three subjects post-16 which gives them a less broad curriculum than previously. And the real-terms funding cuts mean that many schools and particularly sixth form colleges, which have the largest proportion of A-level students, cannot offer the broad range of subjects they were previously able to teach.”

Ben Rowland100x100Ben Rowland, Co-Founder of Arch Apprentices said:

“Apprenticeships have undergone an incredible change in recent years as their focus has shifted from being primarily blue‐collar professions, such as construction or engineering, to business and head office functions. Once thought of as an alternative to University for students who “couldn’t get the grades”, apprenticeships are becoming a viable career option for our brightest young people – as well as those already in work.”

Petra Wilton 2018 100x100Petra Wilton, Director of Strategy at CMI, said:

“Awareness of degree apprenticeships has grown at pace in recent years with most parents now rating a degree apprenticeship at a blue chip corporate over a traditional university degree.

“Degree apprenticeships are transforming how we perceive apprenticeships and vocational education. They have the potential to become that long sought for vocational gold standard that the UK so desperately needs.

“If Ministers are serious about building the profile and quality of apprenticeships in England, then degree apprenticeships show the way. They are transforming young people’s lives and providing great opportunities for those students for whom traditional routes are considered out of reach.”

dr Mary Bousted 100x100 edited 1Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) said:

“Congratulations to the many students who, despite having dealt with the stress and pressure of rushed-in exam reforms, have done so well in their A-levels. It is good to hear that so many students will have the chance to go to university or onto an apprenticeship, if this is what they want to do.

“It is interesting to see that those achieving A* has decreased slightly, with A* achievements in maths down two percentage points on last year, and there is a slight dip across the cohort with 8% achieving the top A* compared to 8.3% in 2017. The South East and London continue to achieve higher grades then the rest of the country, which is of concern, although there has been some improvement in Yorkshire and Humberside.

Dr Derek Richards100x100Dr Derek Richards, Director of Clinical Research & Innovation at SilverCloud Health:

“Receiving A-levels or leaving certificate results can be a really exciting and pivotal time for a young person. It is such a wonderful achievement for a person to reach this point in life where the future holds many different and varied possibilities, however this requires good decision making skills and resilience to achieve goals.

“For some young people the anxiety and stress of finding out A-level or leaving certificate exams results can have a negative impact, especially if the outcomes are not what was wished for and therefore brings uncertainty about what the future holds. Facing clearing, re-sits or potentially considering an alternative path, can take a toll on a person’s mental wellbeing.

“For those that are accepted to a university, the anticipation of starting this new journey can also be stressful. Moving away from home and family, students can often find themselves far from people they would have normally relied on for support. Demands for academic achievement are coupled with demands for social integration, forming new social groups and activities, plus building relationships with house mates, friends and family.

“There are many means of supports available along the journey and I would always encourage people to ask for help when they need it. Remember, for the most part, the experiences people may be having are absolutely normal and can be managed with the right skills and supports.”

John Cope100x100Regarding this year’s A-Level results, John Cope, CBI Head of Education & Skills policy, said:

“Today’s results are the outcome of years of hard work, dedication, and determination for many students.  A-Levels have looked different this year as part of efforts to ensure they remain rigorous – a move largely welcomed by business.

“Regardless of whether people get the results they hoped for or not, it’s also important to keep in mind that grades are just one of the factors employers look for when hiring.  Young people with a positive attitude to work, who show creative flair, or demonstrate leadership skills are highly prized and have a bright future ahead of them.” 

On the options for young people after compulsory education, John Cope said:

“There are many great routes to a successful career whether that’s at a university, college, or learning on the job. It’s important that those getting their A-Level results consider the whole range of options available.

“University absolutely offers students a great next step but is by no means the only route to a higher-level education. There are a range of different options – a Higher National Certificate or Diploma, a foundation degree, or a ‘degree apprenticeship’, with an apprenticeship offering the chance to gain both a qualification employers value and start earning a salary straight away.”  

On the rise this year of unconditional offers from universities, John Cope added:

“What’s driving the growth of unconditional offers is complex. To protect the credibility of our world-class sector, universities must ensure that unconditional offers are used carefully, such as helping widen access to university and driving social justice.”

Fiona Aldridge 100x100Dr Fiona Aldridge, Assistant Director at Learning and Work Institute said:

“As young people receive their A-level and GCSE results and consider their next steps, it’s vital we ensure that they have a strong and clear set of options to continue learning. We are disappointed to see that opportunities to ‘earn while you learn’ remain below 2016 levels, with fewer than 100,000 young people having started an apprenticeship since August 2017. As the government continues to review its apprenticeship reform programme, it is critical that measures to improve education and employment opportunities for young people are at the forefront of their thinking.”

Emma Barbour Johnston100x100Emma Barbour-Johnston, recruitment adviser at UK Power Networks, said:

“There are lots of options for those receiving their A Level results this week and it’s important to recognise that some people learn best by doing. There are many routes into a rewarding career, as the apprenticeships at UK Power Networks have shown.

“A number of our senior managers chose to start their careers at 16 or 18 and our apprenticeships are right up there with university degrees as a route into exciting careers which can open all sorts of doors in the future.”

Liz Wyman, Head of Learning Resources and Guidance at Newcastle Stafford Colleges Group said:

“Understandably, students can get nervous in the run up to results day, even though the vast majority get into university, an apprenticeship or employment without a hitch. These results are the culmination of two years hard work and there is often a lot riding on the outcome. We would urge students to stay calm and seek advice if things don’t go to plan.”

“As a caring college, we want to ensure that students have the best support available, whether they have out-performed expectations, undershot or are simply having doubts about the choices they have made. It is important that students, including those from other sixth forms or colleges, are reassured that whatever their results, there will be options available.”

Mark Rhodes, recruitment specialist at REED, said:

“If you didn’t quite get the results you were hoping for and university is looking like less of an option, now is a great time to consider alternative options and get ahead in the world of work.

“There are plenty of routes to help you embark on your chosen career. Taking up an apprenticeship, for example, could be a great way to help you break into an industry you’re passionate about, whilst gaining practical on-the-job training.

“What’s more, when you start working, you start earning. Whether you’re in coding or customer service, you’ll be gaining the practical skills employers look for, all whilst avoiding the inevitable debt that comes with a university education.

“Whatever you decide is the best option for you, it’s important to take some time to consider your options carefully: starting work as an alternative to starting university could be a great way to kick start your career.”

Bill Richards, UK Managing Director at global job site, Indeed, comments:

“Choosing not to go to university after school does not automatically mean a lower salary. While having a degree typically increases your long-term earning potential, the cost of gaining one is substantial. As a result, many school-leavers will be asking themselves whether the sums of doing a degree add up.

“There are numerous routes into study and employment, and high salaries are by no means the exclusive domain of those heading off to university in September.”

Lee Lucas, principal and CEO of the Fashion Retail Academy, comments:

“If the number of students going to university is relatively flat and fewer are applying early then clearing becomes an increasingly important part of the application process.

“Clearing used to be seen as a path for rejected students who didn’t get the results they wanted.

“All that has changed now. The stigma is gone and many students use clearing because they have had second thoughts about their chosen subject or vocation. Tuition fees are helping to focus minds on whether courses are good quality and value for money, causing many to opt for more career-focused training at the last minute.”

Michael McHale, recruitment leader at Decathlon, said:

“While A-level results are no doubt important, young people should remember that they’re not the be-all-and-end-all. Indeed, “softer skills” such as cultural fit, personality and initiative are just as necessary and even considered by some employers to be more important than academic achievements, such as a university degree.

“It’s important for students to take a step back, consider what they are truly passionate about and look at what they can offer a business outside of academic qualifications. For example, success in sport may bring strong transferrable skills in teamwork, leadership and a keen work ethic – invaluable traits to employers across a range of sectors.

“Rather than automatically thinking university is the best option by default, young people should pursue their passions and proactively seek out employers that value them for their unique skillset – not just academic grades.”

Charles Senabulya, Vice President & Country Manager, SAS UK & Ireland comments:

“The uptake in STEM grades infers that students across the UK are becoming more aware of the potential of these skills to help them secure a career in the fourth industrial revolution, which is being driven by digitalisation and the need to exploit data. An enthusiasm for technology skills is a great starting point, but we must ensure that we foster the right environment, so the workforce can flourish throughout their careers. Lifelong tech learning is going to be essential to safeguard the UK’s competitive edge on the global stage, and to ensure a healthy job market.

“Job roles are already experiencing plenty of change with the arrival of artificial intelligence, robotics and smart technologies, and the next generation need to be equipped to understand and operate alongside these innovations. More businesses will be looking to digitally transform themselves to remain competitive, so tech skills will be at a premium.

“Graduating to become a ‘data scientist’ or ‘data strategist’ is not yet commonplace, but these are some of the most valuable opportunities for graduates in a changing job market. Our research shows that big data and the internet of things could have added £322 billion to the UK economy over the period 2015-2020, which reflects the strong demand for those skilled to work in these fields.

“There are plenty of opportunities out there – we just need to make sure our young people are able to seize them.”

Mollie Holleman, UK Threat Intelligence Manager, Cofense: 

“Businesses across the globe are facing a huge skills gap within their cybersecurity departments – and it’s a problem that continues to grow. In fact, a recent global survey by ESG around the state of IT discovered that, in the past four years, the cybersecurity skills gap has grown by 28%.

“A-level results day isn’t just when students across the UK discover if they earned the grades to attend their university course of choice, it also marks a huge opportunity for the cybersecurity industry to nurture, encourage and develop young talent to look at STEM as a viable and lucrative career path. By inspiring students to further their cybersecurity education, the industry as a whole can start to plug the skills gap which otherwise will only expand.

“However, while it’s important to nurture the cybersecurity stars of the future, organisations also need to understand that, to fully protect themselves, something needs to be done in the here and now. Even employees with years of experience in the workplace can be transformed from perceived weak links in the cybersecurity chain to powerful security sensors, reporting active phishing attacks with the proper conditioning and reporting capabilities provided to them.

“By ensuring that workforces are conditioned, knowledgeable and actively reporting suspicious emails, URLs and content, businesses are better positioned to respond to threats faster and safeguard data and critical IP.”

ICAEW Director of Global Student Recruitment, Sharon Spice, said:

“It is fantastic to see that students are being open minded about how they reach their chosen career.  We are finding that more students are asking us about ‘how they can become an ICAEW Chartered Accountant’, rather than assuming there is only one way.  The good news is there are many routes now in place, which ensures that learners of different types have access to the profession via a path that suits them.  The challenge is ensuring that all parents and teachers recognise the pros and cons of the various routes – as their opinion is often sought by the students at this stage in their education.

“Historically, apprenticeships are always associated with blue collar, labourer style jobs, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Some of the country’s biggest employers are now offering students the opportunity to start working straight from school, and learn on the job. This does not only offer students experience of the working environment, but also allows them to start earning a wage and frees them from any debt.”

Ravinder Romanay, Regional VP, UK, at Exasol, comments:

“It is encouraging to see that there are more young people studying STEM subjects than ever before. Exasol analysed the GCE A-level data over the last ten years and found that the number of students studying STEM subjects* at A-Level has increased by 37% in ten years and 9% over five years. This comes against a backdrop of falling overall A-level exam entries.

“The data also revealed that the proportion of females studying STEM subjects at A-level is also increasing – in just five years the proportion of women study Computing has risen from 6.5% to 11.8%. There have been various government-industry initiatives and these are clearly paying off.

“Inspiring the next generation of female talent to take up STEM careers is critical to plugging the skills gap in science and technology. STEM-related jobs are outpacing all other industries and with Brexit on the horizon, this is set to increase. 

“Here at Exasol, we pride ourselves on providing an inclusive environment for everyone. We focus ensuring that all our staff are of the highest calibre, which ensures our organisation is best positioned for the future. High-performing teams are non-negotiable for an organisation to be successful, and I fundamentally believe that these teams have to be inclusive of all ages, genders and ethnicities. Without that level of diversity, an organisation simply cannot achieve its full potential. 

“There is still plenty more to be done to help improve the gender balance in the tech industry and the fact that more girls are now studying STEM subjects is promising for the future of our industry. Of course, this is no time to rest on our laurels, but the time to press forward and make sure we keep these young people engaged with the technology industry going forward.”

Delphix comments:

“The positive trend we have seen today as more students across the UK gain STEM related A-level/GCSE grades is good news for the technology industry as it means that more people are waking up to the possibilities that the data revolution holds for their career path.  

“There has been a significant shift in the world of business in the past decade, a shift which has meant that now, nearly all companies can be classed as data companies. Data has never been more important than it is now, with the government even stepping in to help regulate data laws through GDPR.

“It is the new competitive advantage. It doesn’t matter what business you’re in. It doesn’t matter if you’re an analyst or a data scientist or the head of marketing. Everyone needs data, but it is complex, heavy, expensive to maintain, and difficult to move.

“As a result, we need more and more trained graduates with key technology skills to propel businesses to the next level of innovation. Hiring graduates is of the utmost importance as they offer diverse thinking and perspectives which are critical to success, along with bringing a fresh and deeper level of understanding of data to our organisations. But this can only be achieved if they are encouraged to develop their data skills early on. 

“It is imperative that we train the next generation with the right skills to allow them to move freely into the fourth industrial revolution. With these STEM skills, they will help facilitate the next wave of change and keep businesses in the UK competitive and current. Building a great company starts with the people”.

Carol Holden, VP HR EMEA at Software AG:

“As students nervously line up today to find out their A-level results, we are reminded again about the importance of technology skills within the UK. This year saw a notable rise in students taking science and mathematics subjects. Computing also rose by 25% on last year, a positive sign for the industry.

“Young people are right to be pursuing their studies in science, maths and computing. They have truly grown up in the digital world, with unprecedented access to technologies. They are the true digital natives, and as they go on to university, they will continue to grow and develop these skills. In this age of job automation (McKinsey found that 30% of tasks in 60% of occupations could be computerised), the next generation of workers will need this training to take their natural technology abilities to the next level.

“We need to ensure they are encouraged and supported to keep the UK as a centre for innovation and technology in Europe. Businesses need to focus on plugging the existing tech skills gap and future-proof our tech leaders of the future.”


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