A-level students face race for university places after record results

Students celebrating A Level success at Open Academy in Norwich.

Students celebrating A Level success at Open Academy in Norwich. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Students are facing a race to secure university places after record numbers were awarded the top grades at A-levels.

More than two in five (44.8pc) of students in the East of England were awarded an A or A* grade after exams were cancelled with results determined by teachers assessments due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 2019, when exams were last run before the pandemic, just one in four (25.5pc) of entries achieved the top grades.

This region’s overall A-level pass rate for A*-E grades was down slightly, but many Norfolk schools saw big jumps in the numbers achieving A* to C.

Thetford Academy saw 86pc graded A* to C compared with 65pc in 2020, at Thetford Grammar School number lept from 87pc last year to 99pc. 

Private schools saw the largest absolute increase in the top grades, data from Ofqual suggests. Independent Langley School at Loddon saw the number rise from 82pc to 94pc. 

Successful students at Langley School

Successful students at Langley School where the numbers gaining A-level A*-C grades rose significantly. - Credit: Tim Stephenson Photography

Headteacher Jon Perriss said: “This cohort is the strongest Langley has had for many years, regardless of the method of assessment, and the results are testament to the integrity of the process and calibre of the student.”

The results included some high flying students who achieved across the board A* gardes.

At Springwood High in King’s Lynn, which saw 84pc of students gain A* to C grades, up from 78pc in 2019, Ezra Nwobodo was delighted with his three A* and one A and is now looking forward to studying at Bristol University.

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Joshua Ampomah, one of the top achievers with four A*, is off to Oxford University to study engineering and added: "I'm feeling pretty good and excited for the next step - I'm just enjoying the moment right now!"

Ezra Nwobodo and Joshua Ampomah

Ezra Nwobodo and Joshua Ampomah were among the A-level high achievers at Springwood High School in King's Lynn. - Credit: Ian Burt Photography

Exam board officials said the higher grades reflected the fact that pupils had "multiple chances" to show their knowledge and they were less likely to have a "bad day" in an exam.

But the bumper year for results means a record number of students have secured a place on their first-choice university course. 

University admissions service UCAS said eight per cent more students had been accepted onto degree courses compared with results day last year.

Norwich High School for Girls student gets her A-level grades.

Norwich High School for Girls student gets her A-level grades. - Credit: NHSG

But youngsters who did not meet their offers are likely to face greater competition for a place at top institutions as there could be fewer courses available in clearing.

Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, has warned that some courses at the leading universities "may not be able to accept students who narrowly missed their offer grades" this year.

Former local headteacher Geoff Barton, now general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “The majority of university applicants will now go on to their preferred university, and those who have missed grades and go through the clearing process will receive support from universities, schools and colleges to find a course which fulfils their aspirations. 

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

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has said the decision to allow mock exam results for A-level students is "bewildering". Picture: PHIL MORELY - Credit: Archant

“It will be important that universities provide educational and pastoral support to their new undergraduates given the extreme disruption they have faced during the course of the pandemic and we are sure this is fully understood already.”


Can unhappy students challenge their results?

Pupils who want to appeal against their grades must first request that their school or college reviews whether an administrative or procedural error was made.

Each school or college will set their own deadlines by which students must ask them to review a grade.

UCAS clearing

UCAS clearing and adjustment is available for students who have done less well or better than expected. - Credit: PA

How do appeals work?

If the school or college rules no error was made, then students can escalate the appeal to the exam boards, which their school or college is expected to submit on their behalf.

The deadline to send an appeal to the exam board is September 17.

There is an earlier deadline of August 23 for priority appeals, for example, if a student has not got their first choice of university place confirmed.

What about clearing?

The first step following disappointing exam results is to talk to an advisor at your school or college who can provide you with assistance on what to do next. Course vacancies are available via the UCAS search tool.

UCAS Clearing where you can apply to universities and colleges that have course vacancies. If your results are better than you expected the UCAS adjustment service has courses with higher entry requirements.

The national Exam Results Helpline on: 0800 100 900 between 8am and 10pm, 7 days a week until August 20.

Students taking exams

Students unhappy with their A-level grades will have the opportunity to take exams in the autumn. - Credit: PA

Can students sit an exam if they do not like their results?

Students who are unhappy with their A-level grades will have the opportunity to take exams in the autumn.

AS and A-level exams will be held in October, while GCSE exams will take place in November and December.

The higher grade will count for applicants who wish to take an autumn exam.


The National Apprenticeship Service website lists apprenticeships across England and Apprenticeships Norfolk also have a list of current local vacancies particularly at the higher levels.

Students at Norwich School receiving their A-level results.

Students at Norwich School receiving their A-level results. - Credit: Norwich School

Information and Advice

Norfolk County Council’s Help You Choose offers information and advice on different options for those uncertain about their next steps or receive results below their expectation. 

Advice and support available ranges from CV writing, apprenticeship vacancies, and information about different careers. It also has space for parents to help them understand the different options for their child.

The National Careers Service offers careers information and advice to young people and is open between 8am and 10pm every day. You can also telephone a careers adviser on 0800 100 900.