In line with students worldwide, GCE/International A Levels awarded by Pearson EdExcel and AQA were cancelled due to the pandemic; Cambridge was the only A Level/IGCSE exam board to run its June 2021 exam series as planned, where it was permitted by national education authorities.
In Hong Kong, this meant that students sat written exams for some subjects and received Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs) for other subjects, based on mock exams, coursework, essays and in-class tests.
At Kellett School, (pictured above) students sat exams in four subjects. The Class of 2021 celebrated their best year ever for A Level results with well above average grades. Out of the entries for this year, 81.4% of all grades were A*-A compared to 62.1% last year. 98.5% were A*-C, 93.3% achieved A* to B and 55.4% of grades were A*; the pass rate was 100%.
In the cohort of 74, there were some very strong personal results including 10 students (14%) who achieved four or more A* grades and 28 students (38%) who achieved three or more A* grades.
Kellett's Principal and CEO Mark Steed said:
"Kellett, like many schools in Hong Kong, is a highly academic school. Each year we have some of the best, if not the best, A Level results of any British international school in the world – and this year was no exception.
"We are delighted that the students have been rewarded for all their hard work over two very disrupted years in Hong Kong. We were fortunate that this was a very bright year group and that they were suitably skilled and motivated to make the most of the extended periods of home-learning that were forced upon them.
"Most pleasingly, almost all of them are going onto the university of their choice – be that in the UK, the US or other great institutions around the world. 61/62 of students who applied to the UK secured places at their first-choice institution.
"Kellett was one of the few schools in the world (alongside a handful of schools in Singapore and Malaysia) which actually sat CAIE (Cambridge International) examinations this year, so our overall results are a combination of Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs) and formal examinations. Well done to all the students and staff concerned.”"
At Harrow International School (Hong Kong), out of a cohort of 76, 20 pupils received all A* in all of their subjects, with a majority of 55 pupils achieving all A*s or As. Over 84% of all results were A*-A.
The school said:
"These exceptional results have been achieved whilst living through considerable disruption and uncertainty caused by the global pandemic. This year was like no other, and we are immensely proud of the way our pupils have adapted to the constant changes. As always, our pupils have risen to the challenge, and our staff and teachers have constantly kept the best interests of our pupils at heart."
There’s only a small number of Hong Kong’s 80-plus international schools that offer A Levels, with the majority following the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme at college level instead. The international schools that do offer GCE/International A Levels include: California School, Discovery Bay International School, Harrow International Hong Kong, Kellett School (Kowloon Bay), Korean International School, and Sear Rogers International School.
Other schools offering A Levels include Diocesan Girls' School, St Paul's Convent School (Secondary Section), YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College. These are Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS) schools, which are private schools that receive a subsidy from the Hong Kong government. Although DSS schools must focus on offering a curriculum that targets local students and prepares them for local examinations, some also offer A Levels.
A Level students who are unhappy with their Teacher Assessed Grades can appeal their grades or retake A Level exams in the same subject in autumn 2021.
Read more: GCSE, A Level Results Day 2021: Need to Know
Exam board Cambridge International awarded A Level and AS Level grades to just under 170,000 students worldwide this year. Overall, there has been a slight rise in the overall grade achieved compared with 2019 (when normal exams last took place) and 2020 (when all exams were cancelled), which is between half and two-thirds of a grade.
Almost three-quarters of Cambridge students sat formal exams in countries including Hong Kong, Mainland China, Malaysia and Egypt. Where exams could not take place safely, including in the UK, Cambridge offered a school assessment approach using students' work.
Cambridge will release its IGCSE results on Thursday, August 12.
Figures published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) for England, Wales and Northern Ireland showed that A Level results have reached an all-time high, with nearly 45% of this year's entries being awarded an A* or A. This follows a second year of disruption due to Covid-19, where students have received A Level results awarded by teacher assessment rather than national exams.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland:
Last year, almost two in five A Levels - 38.5% - were awarded an A* or A compared with 25.5% in 2019. Ahead of today’s A Level results being published, concerns were raised about grade inflation and the disparity of results between schools and their students. This puts pressure on the university admissions system, and universities and places of further education more generally.
UK universities, who received the results last week from the Examination Boards, anticipated that this year's grades will, on average, be one grade higher than last year by comparison.
Students studied 40 different A/AS Level subjects, and the most popular A Level subjects this year were maths, psychology, biology and chemistry. The largest number of entries was for A Level maths and further maths, taken by a total of 104,858 students, compared with 101,390 in 2020 and 98,695 in 2019.
There has been a sizeable increase in the number of students taking geography (16.8%), law (15.4%), computing (11.3%) and psychology (9.2%). There has been a slight decrease in the number of students taking design and technology (5.8%), German (4.9%), English literature (4.6%), media studies (3.5%) and English language (3.4%).
Spanish continues to be the most popular A Level in modern foreign languages, with 8,433 entries, followed by French and German.
Across the UK, 39,734 results were issued for the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ), an independent research project.
Girls received more top grades than boys overall. 19.7% of girls were awarded A*, compared with 18.4% for boys, and the rate of A*-A grades was 46.4% for girls and 41.7% for boys. This reverses the gender gap of 2019 when more boys were outperforming girls. Girls also overtook boys for the first time in maths, with 29.1% achieving A* grades compared to 28.5% of male students.
In England, London and the South East were the top performing regions, with 47% of entries being graded A*-A. The North East had the lowest number of A*-A grades with 39% (up from 35.6% in 2020).
As well as A Level results being released earlier this year, today is the first time that all AS and A Level, some vocational qualifications, Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers, and Welsh Baccalaureate grades have been released on the same day; GCSE results will be published on Thursday (August 12).
Just under 400,000 students have a confirmed place at their first-choice of full-time undergraduate course at a UK university.
The GCE Advanced Level or International A Level is a secondary school leaving qualification in the UK and an international school qualification worldwide. Students normally sit three A Levels, but some sit four, and others as few as two.
Used by University and College admissions services around the world, A Levels remain one of the most widely recognised pre-university and college entry examinations. More universities are already considering setting their own entrance exams in the coming years due to the ongoing concerns about the accuracy of A Level results.
Leading universities could be forced to set their own tests to help them distinguish between the many prospective students awarded straight As, given the lack of an objective measure by which to judge the academic ability of school-leavers.
The government has said that all UK universities can now return to full face-to-face teaching after two years of disruption and campus closures. While universities are autonomous, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has suggested that universities that do not go back to in-person lectures and seminars should not charge full tuition fees.
Speaking on Sky News today (August 10), Mr Williamson said:
"I think if universities are not delivering what students expect, then actually they shouldn't be charging the full fees."
UK Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that students getting their A Level results today 'deserve' the grades they get.
"Students have worked very hard in what has been an extraordinary and challenging year, and each and every one of them should feel incredibly proud of their achievements. We should all celebrate their resilience and ability to overcome adversity.
Teachers and staff have ensured that, despite the disruption caused by the pandemic, all students are able to get grades this year and so can take their next steps and make their choices about further study or entering the workplace."
This year, the IB Diploma Programme's dual route option of exam or non-examined assessments saw a rise in pass rates, average scores, and top scorers. The average IBDP score for the May 2021 session was 32.99 points, up from 31.34 in May 2020 and 29.62 in 2019. While this year’s A Level results are based solely on Teacher Assessed Grades, the IB results are based partially on assessments that were marked by IB Examiners.
Read more: Hong Kong May 2021 IB Results
For the second year running, the UK’s Department for Education (DfE) will not be publishing league tables for secondary qualifications. The most recent league tables for all UK state and independent schools are based on 2019 results.
However, the DfE has already announced that results from GCSE and A Level qualifications in 2021-22 will be published in school and college performance tables. This is because “after two years without publication of performance data, it is important that this information is publicly available to parents and students to support them when choosing schools and post-16 institutions, given the importance of qualification outcomes to student progression”.