From education to employment

Vocational Technical Qualification (VTQ) Results Day 2023: Sector Response

Exams and formal assessments in England, including GCSEs, AS levels, A-levels, T-Levels and VTQs, went ahead as normal this summer, following major disruptions in previous years exams due to the Coronavirus Pandemic.

This year, A-level, T-Level and VTQ Results day is on the 17th of August, with GCSE results day the following week on the 24th of August.

From Autumn 2023, UCAS will expand its service so that young people can see more personalised options, including apprenticeships. Additionally, from 2024, students will then be able to apply for apprenticeships through UCAS alongside an undergraduate degree application, making it easier for students to track all applications.

The return to formal assessments means that national outcomes for vocational and technical qualifications (VTQ’s) are also expected to be lower than pandemic levels.

See our sector response piece in the run-up to results day 2023 here.

See the sector’s analysis here.

Thousands of pupils secure place at their first-choice university as grading returns to normal

  • University acceptances up on 2019, with 79% getting first their choice
  • 27.2% of A levels at grade A or above, compared to 25.4% in 2019
  • 90.5% of T Level students achieve a Pass or above in the second year of the flagship new qualification
  • Results back to pre-pandemic levels in an important step back to normal

Young people across England are celebrating exam results this morning – with thousands of them moving on to university, apprenticeships and the world of work.

Overall, 79% of 18-year-old pupils in the UK receiving a decision today have gained a place at their first choice university.

16, 530 students who received free school meals (FSM) have also gained a place at university which is a 60% increase from 2019.

Over 250,000 certificates were awarded for those completing their Level 3 vocational and technical qualifications. 

Gillian Keegan

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said:

“Congratulations to everyone receiving results today. There are more opportunities than ever before so whatever your results, I’m sure you will have a bright future ahead of you.

“It’s fantastic to see the number of young people accepted to university – including to their first choice – continue to be up on the years before the pandemic, while thousands more go off to exciting apprenticeships and the world of work.

“As always, there are a wide range of fantastic options for those who did not get the results they hoped for, and students can find out more by visiting the UCAS website or through the National Careers Service.”

College Contribution to Results Day 2023

There are over 1.2 million 16-18-year-olds studying in publicly funded education. Of those, around half (c. 49%) are studying in colleges, 43% in schools and 8% in work-based learning. There are more publicly funded 16–18-year-olds in colleges than in schools.

Qualification levels:

  • 2% (c. 26,500) are studying at Level 1.
  • 14% (c. 162,000) are studying at Level 2.
  • 73% (c. 870,000) are studying at Level 3.
  • 11% on other types of courses.

Level 3:

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of publicly funded 16-18 year olds (c. 870,000 students) are studying at Level 3. Over half a million of these Level 3 students are studying for A Levels, including over 140,000 also taking some Applied General qualifications in mixed programmes.

Over 320,000 level 3 students are studying Level 3 vocational and technical qualifications as their main programme, including T Levels and Applied Generals, such as BTECs and Cambridge Technical.

Colleges have:

  • 90% of T Level students.
  • 80% of Level 3 vocational and technical students.
  • 44% of all Level 3 students.
  • 23% of A Level students.

Sector Response

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges said:

“We should all be proud of the students who are finding out their results today – these are young people who have had to cope with enormous disruptions to their education and training during the pandemic and the uncertainties and challenges that presented to them. To see them achieve, having worked so hard is inspiring to see.

“As in any normal year there will be students disappointed as well as those delighted with their results. Our advice is always to focus on qualifications and grades as a passport to the next stage of study, training or employment rather than obsess about the grades themselves. Universities and colleges will be ensuring that every applicant is treated fairly and places on courses and jobs are available for as many as possible as is the case every year.

“We must also celebrate everybody who has studied and trained – not just those who took A levels. There are more than 320,000 students who have taken technical and vocational qualifications – including a small number taking the new T levels – these are tomorrow’s engineers, mechanics, healthcare workers, and all of those who help drive the country forward. We want them to feel special today and to celebrate their achievements equally and alongside those A Level student who are traditionally applauded on results day.

“Colleges across the country have played a major part in the successes today, alongside school sixth forms and staff and leaders of those institutions should be proud of their part in helping young people make the transition to adulthood through their learning. Around half of all 16-18 year olds in publicly funded education study in colleges across a range of qualifications including vocational and technical qualifications, applied general qualifications and A Levels.

“Colleges cater for all types of learning, training, skills and also play a significant part in helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds make progress – with many students going on to achieve phenomenal successes, despite the pressures they face from the cost of living crisis or previous struggles in education and training.”

Vivienne Stern MBE, Chief Executive of Universities UK congratulates students on Results Day 2023:

“Congratulations to all those receiving their results today. Students have faced multiple challenges to their education over the last few years, and today they, their friends and their families should be feeling immensely proud of all that they have achieved.

“For those who are setting out on the journey towards university today, it is a momentous day. For me, my time at university was the best of my life. I know that it will open up opportunities for thousands of students. For those who are still finalising their plans through Clearing, please remember that there is lots of good impartial advice available via UCAS, online, on social media and through their phone lines. Universities are also on hand to support you.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“Congratulations to students and their teachers on this year’s A-level and VTQ results. These are demanding qualifications requiring extensive knowledge, skill and application. Everybody involved should be proud of what they have achieved.

“The proportion of students achieving the top A-level grades has fallen sharply this year, not as a result of underperformance, but because the grading system has been adjusted in the wake of the pandemic so that the distribution of grades in England is similar to 2019.

“This adjustment is a return to normality after the pandemic which necessitated the use of different approaches to grading.

“Whatever the rationale, however, it will feel like a bruising experience for many students, as well as schools and colleges which will have seen a sharp dip in top grades compared to the past three years.

“It is important to remember that these students also suffered the disruption of the pandemic, and this will have impacted particularly on those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“It is likely then that results at school or college level and between areas will be affected by these varying circumstances and it is important that parents, governors, politicians and commentators understand that this year is not comparable with 2019 or any other previous year.

“Everything possible too must be done to support these students. Universities must ensure their welfare systems provide the emotional and academic support some will require. The government must ensure employers are fully aware of the changes to grading standards.

“We would urge students who are disappointed by their grades not to panic but to talk to their teachers about the options available to them and we wish all the young people receiving their results today every success for the future.”

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:   

“The Union congratulates all students receiving their A-Level, Applied General and other Level 3 qualification results today. They have kept going through the pandemic and through years of austerity. Their determination and resilience, alongside the efforts of educators, parents and carers who support them, deserve great credit. 

‘Exam results should not be taken as a valid measure of school quality. It would be wrong to compare results at a national level with those of previous years. It would also be wrong to use them to compare individual schools and colleges. Different methods of assessment have been used, different levels of pandemic disruption have been experienced and Ofqual has implemented different approaches to grading from one year to the next.  

‘The efforts of parents, students and teachers are not matched by the quality of the exam system. The decision to return abruptly to pre-pandemic grading risks damaging the future of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, whose lives and learning have already been hit hard by the pandemic.  

‘The exam system itself is badly in need of reform. The ways in which students and their schools and colleges are judged does not do them justice. Just as is the case with blunt, one-word Ofsted judgments, one figure calculated from the results of exams cannot alone demonstrate everything about the education on offer at a school or college. Relying on end-of-course exams does not allow students to demonstrate all they are capable of. 

‘As the Independent Assessment Commission has argued, the demand for change is growing. There is a wide consensus that a curriculum and assessment review in England working towards a broader, fairer, more reliable and more inclusive assessment system is urgently required”. 

Hadi Moussa, Managing Director, EMEA for Coursera

“Naturally, A-Level Results Day is an anxious time for many young people. This year, anxieties are more fraught than ever, with fierce competition expected for top university places. No matter their post-school plans, however, it’s crucial that  students are aware of the variety of opportunities available to them when it comes to forging their career path. 

“For many, the next step will be university, but, for all, it’s important to keep in mind that degrees are no longer the sole pathway towards a successful future. Indeed, following the government’s announcement to crack down on ‘rip off’ degrees, coupled with the average student loan repayment reaching £42,000, it is unsurprising that many young people have been left considering whether traditional degrees can justify the time, financial, and opportunity costs.

“In this context, though a meaningful degree premium continues to exist for most degree-holders, it’s still imperative that all of the UK’s school leavers ask themselves the crucial question: will my intended qualification arm me with the skills I need to succeed in today’s fast-changing world of work?

“Coursera’s own research found that less than half of Brits (48%) with a degree use the skills they learned at university in their jobs regularly, with 39% feeling that their course has not prepared them for their job role. While degrees continue to typically yield improved job opportunities, there are now a variety of educational pathways available to learners – such as microcredentials and professional certificates – that are better equipped to skill them quickly for today’s in-demand jobs.

“Such courses can be taken irrespective of A-Level attainment, meaning that even those who have missed target grades can find employer-recognised pathways to acquiring the skills that will transform their futures. In addition, an increasing number of microcredentials also ‘stack’ into university degrees, meaning that those with these qualifications can deploy them to launch a career or progress to higher education with a more solid skills base. For example, learners who complete Google’s IT Support Professional Certificate can use their qualification to count towards the University of London’s BsC in Computer Science – or to pursue an immediate career in the field.

“At Coursera, we’re seeing that Gen-Z are well-attuned to the changing labour market, and are increasingly taking courses to bolster their skills in specific in-demand areas. For example, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) courses currently constitute around 15% of total course enrollments, while Leadership & Management, Communication and Strategy are the top three areas in which young people are upskilling themselves when it comes to equipping themselves with human skills. 

“So as the next generation of students take their next steps towards the world of work, we would encourage them to remember that, just as the world of work is rapidly changing, so must our approach to skills. No matter their results, there is now a wealth of flexible, accessible learning opportunities available to them – opportunities that may not have been available to previous generations, and that will play a central role in preparing the UK’s young people for a flourishing future.”

David Morgan, Chief Executive, Career Development Institute

“This year’s big results day story is that the government have returned grade profiles to their pre-pandemic levels after three years of higher grades. While they need to return to longer-term levels, England has made the change a year earlier than Wales and Northern Ireland and some called for the correction to take place over a number of years. Our real concern is the risk of widening the attainment gap between those from higher and lower income backgrounds. Young people from lower incomes were less likely to have had additional support during the pandemic disruption and this could limit their ability to move onto the next stage of their education, training or work.

“This could be exacerbated by the continuing rise in the number of 18-year-olds in the population, intensifying competition for degree places. Again, it is those most disadvantaged who are likely to be negatively affected and there needs to be a clear focus on supporting them to minimise the gap in opportunity.

“The good news is the continued expansion of alternative routes such as apprenticeships up to degree level that don’t leave students with a large debt and include valuable experience in the workplace. Higher Technical Qualifications also offer a route to gain skills valued by employers and many young people may directly enter the world of work or take time to re-sit exams or gain other experiences.

“Parents, carers and teachers may not have experience or knowledge of all these routes, so it’s important at such a critical transition point that young people have access to impartial, expert advice from the Careers Advisers in schools and colleges. They support young people in defining what they want from their career, advise on the options for their next step and support with the application process as well as any barriers they may face. It’s important that young people make the right choice for them and are confident in their next step.”

Bill Watkin, Chief Executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said:

“Sixth form college students have achieved truly remarkable successes once again, with outstanding exam results and countless wonderful stories of happy students taking up places at their first choice destinations. This is testament to the talent, skill and relentless focus on high standards that characterise the students and their teachers across the sixth form college sector. Of course, results this year are engineered to look more like those of 2019, before Covid struck, so comparison with the last two years is unhelpful. What matters is that universities and employers understand this and are adjusting their requirements in line with this year’s grades.”

John Blake, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, said:

‘A huge congratulations to each and every student receiving their qualification results today. The past few years have been challenging for all students, who have worked incredibly hard throughout their studies.

‘There are many exciting opportunities awaiting all students receiving their results today. Many will be heading off to higher education, either to their first choice, or another course through Clearing. For those going through Clearing, Discover Uni has lots of information and students can compare courses they’re interested in studying. Other students might be considering degree apprenticeships or other higher education options.

‘We will be closely reviewing the outcomes and destinations of students to ensure that universities and colleges continue to meet our regulatory expectations, and do all they can to ensure those who want to benefit from higher education have equal opportunities to do so.’

Sarah Danzl, CMO of Skillable on why exam results are not an indicator of future success said:

“In the midst of exam results season, if those results aren’t quite what you’d expect, all is not lost. Today’s employers are looking for talent that they can grow long-term, and grades are only part of what they’re looking for when they’re assessing your skills. More employers, like IBM, Walmart, and Boeing are looking at skills over credentials when hiring employees. 

“It’s worth focusing on how you can build practical experiences to show employers that you have the skills they need. Internships, volunteering, and apprenticeships are some ways to practice skills. Some employers also offer hands-on courses and ‘skill’ labs that focus on specific digital, management, sales, and marketing skills. The more you practice a skill, the more confident you’ll feel when applying it to a role and that will come across during interviews with employers. 

“As you embark on the next stage of your growth, whether that’s returning for another school term, to college, or employment, remember that future employers will be looking at your overall skills and aptitude for learning. Grades are a moment in time, they become increasingly outdated as your career progresses. So focus on cultivating a lasting habit of building and refining your skills. That mindset, not your grades, will ultimately determine your career trajectory.”

Related Articles