A-level results 2021: top grades and record-breaking results for UK students

45% of entries get A or A* in results determined by teachers.

Students celebrate exam results


Get in touch to let us know about your school's A-level grades - email After A-level exams were cancelled for a second time, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, many students across the UK celebrated record-breaking results.These teacher-assessed grades (Tags) were overseen by examination boards in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Scottish Qualifications Authority will use a similar process.

Overall outcomes (England, Wales & NI) increased at A* and A-A* (i.e. A and above):

  • A* increased by 4.8 percentage points (pp) from 2020
  • A*-A increased by 6.3pp in 2021 from 2020
  • Pass rates declined slightly by 0.2pp from 2020

Female students performed better than male students:

  • At A* female students increased by 5.3pp and male students increased by 4.2pp
  • At A*-A female students increased by 7.0pp and male students by 5.4pp
  • A Level maths female students overtook male students for the first time in the number of A* grades achieved – with 29.1% getting an A* compared with 28.5% of male students

Joint Council for Qualifications comment on A-level results

Dr Philip Wright, Director General of JCQ said, "On behalf of JCQ and the exam boards, I would like to congratulate all students receiving their results today. The impact of Covid has undoubtedly provided a difficult chapter in their education journey and their resilience is to be applauded. We wish them all the best as they take their next steps in life.""We would also like to express our sincere thanks to teachers, exams officers, heads of centre and colleagues who have all worked exceptionally hard to determine grades this summer. Teachers used their professional judgement and submitted the grades and evidence in good time for us to check and award grades today. Their efforts will allow students to swiftly progress onto the next stages of their education, training or employment."

UK Education Secretary: students operating "under quite exceptional circumstances"

Gavin Williamson, the UK Secretary of State for Education, has said that "grade inflation" is justified this year - but that the system would not return to normal next year.“We are expecting children – students – to get better grades this year than maybe they have done in previous years, but they have been youngsters who are operating under quite exceptional circumstances and in quite unique circumstances," said Williamson.Hinting that the system would not return to normal for 2022, Williamson also said, "We also recognise that those students who will be looking at taking exams in 2022 will also have had their education disrupted as part of that; that's why, as part of that extensive consultation that we did in the last academic year, we set out some mitigations in order to be able to support those children."Mr Williamson insisted that universities and employers can have "confidence" in the 2021 A-level grades.

Who better than teachers to assess student progress?

While some, including the UK Education Secretary, have mentioned "grade inflation", it is worth noting that teachers are well equipped to assess their students' educational progress. Talk of "grade inflation" discredits the dedication and hard work of teachers and their students over an incredibly difficult year.

University places

Ucas figures show that a record number of students - 435,430 - have been accepted on UK degree courses in 2021 - up 5% from last year. This means that 43% of the UK's school leavers want to enter higher education - with strong demand for health-related courses such as medicine and nursing, perhaps unsurprising considering the effects of the Covid pandemic.This is reflected in a surge in applications to medical schools in the UK, where students at oversubscribed schools are being asked to change to a course at a university elsewhere - sometimes in exchange for £10,000. Applications to medical school increased by 20% this year, as more applicants received the grades required to meet their university offers than was forecast. Because of this, the UK government will fund hundreds of extra places at medical and dental courses in England.The Department for Education stated, “For this academic year, universities that can accommodate an increase to medical and dentistry places for students that have met the grades and hold a firm offer at a university with pressure on places will be supported to do so. For these universities that can take on more students that have met the grades whilst also ensuring teaching, learning and assessments standards are maintained, there will be flexibility to add to their numbers.” 

STEM and apprenticeships

Bhavina Bharkhada, Make UK Head of Policy & Campaigns said, “The increase in top grades awarded in Maths amongst female students, and high number of young people sitting STEM subjects is fantastic news - especially for the manufacturing sector who are looking for the next generation of innovators, creators and makers.

“The pandemic has shown just how integral our science, technology, and industrial base is the UK and we hope these young people are inspired to join our sector to help to tackle the big societal challenges we face as we come out of the Covid crisis.

“We urge young people to look at wealth of opportunities and options available to them including apprenticeships when considering their next steps. Despite the difficult year, almost 6 in 10 employers are continuing to make these opportunities open and accessible to all young people across the whole of the UK.”

What can students do if they are unhappy with A-level results?

Students unhappy with their A-level results will have an opportunity to sit exams in the autumn. However, pupils in England must first request that their school or college review whether an administrative or procedural error was made. If no error was made, students can escalate the appeal to exam boards - the deadline for this appeal in England is 17 September. (Priority appeals, for students who did not get their first choice of university place, have a deadline of 23 August.)

School results:

Get in touch to let us know about your school's A-level grades - email

Read more about this year's A-level results - Ruth Holmes reports

Read more about Education & Schools - or visit our Great Education & Schools Fair pages to learn more about International Education.

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