A-level trends: What this year’s results tell us

Spanish extends its lead, drama and music fight back, while English literature struggles.

18 August 2022

Here are seven trends in this year’s A-level results:

– Business studies is more popular than English literature

The slow decline of the English literature A-level continues.

In 2017, when exams were first sat for the current course, there were 46,411 entries.

In 2022 there were 35,791 – a fall of 23%.

This year English literature not only dropped out of the top 10 most popular subjects, but it was also overtaken for the first time by business studies.

(PA Graphics)

– Music and drama are no longer in freefall

Both A-level music and drama spent much of the previous decade experiencing a slump in popularity, with entries tumbling between 2011 and 2020 by 43% and 40% respectively.

In the last two years this trend looks to have gone into reverse, however.

Entries for music levelled off in 2021 and rose year-on-year by 4% in 2022.

Drama saw a rise of 1% in 2021 and 3% this year.

The figures are notable given that students taking either of these subjects will have had a particularly tough time over the past two years, with Covid-19 restrictions likely to have seriously disrupted activities such as rehearsal and performance.

(PA Graphics)

– Boys retake lead over girls in top grade for maths

In 2021, A-level maths female students overtook their male counterparts for the first time in terms of A* grades achieved.

Some 29.1% of girls were awarded A*, compared with 28.5% of boys.

In 2022, boys re-established the lead they had previously enjoyed since the A* grade was introduced in 2010.

This year, 24.2% of boys were awarded A* in maths, compared with 22.1% of girls.

The change might have been affected by the drop in the number of girls taking the subject, down 5% from 38,016 in 2021 to 36,083 in 2022, while the figure for boys dropped only 0.2%, from 59,674 to 59,552.

– Girls outnumber boys in political studies

The number of girls taking A-level political studies has outnumbered boys for the first time.

A decade ago in 2012, 8,669 boys were entered for the subject compared with 6,591 girls.

This year, the figures stood at 10,305 girls and 10,191 boys.

Political studies is becoming steadily more popular among all students.

It was the 14th most popular subject this year, up from 16th in 2017 and 18th in 2012.

(PA Graphics)

– Computing continues to show biggest gender imbalance

Once again, computing was the A-level subject that recorded the biggest gender imbalance towards males, with boys making up 85% of entries and girls 15% – the same proportions as last year.

Physics (77% boys, 23% girls) and further maths (72% boys, 28% girls) were among the other subjects skewed heavily towards males.

The biggest imbalance towards females was in the relatively new subject of health and social care.

In the double award for this subject, girls made up 96% of entries and boys just 4% – again, the same percentages as last year.

Performing/expressive arts (91% girls, 9% boys) and Welsh as a first language (86% girls, 14% boys) were other examples of subjects with predominantly female entries.

(PA Graphics)

– Spanish extends lead

Spanish overtook French in 2019 to become the most popular language at A-level.

The gap has widened ever since and this year stood at 9,088 entries for Spanish compared with 7,929 for French.

The number of French A-level entries has now fallen by more than a third (37%) in 10 years.

Entries for German have dropped 41% since 2012, but the decline looks to have come to a halt.

There were 2,803 entries this year – up very slightly on 2,708 in 2021.

– Winners and losers of the last decade

Ten years ago, around one in six A-level entries (17.0%) were in the three main sciences: biology, chemistry and physics.

By this year, the figure had reached one in five, or 20.1%.

Over the same period, the proportion of total entries that were English language and/or literature has shrunk from around one in 10 (10.4%) to nearly one in 15 (6.8%).

Business and economics have enjoyed rising popularity.

These two subjects accounted for 6.1% of entries in 2012 and 9.3% in 2022.

The trend is in the opposite direction for the performing arts and media, however.

Subjects in these areas made up 7.0% of entries a decade ago.

In 2022 the figure stood at 4.5%.

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