Understanding boarding schools' A-Level results

It's all in the pass rate: which are the best boarding schools in the United Kingdom for A-Level pass rates?
Boarding school rankings depend on the school league tables of A-Level pass results, but how important are these in deciding on your child‘s school? We have a look at the pros and cons of the A-Level data.

What are A-Levels?

In the UK, A-Levels are the final exams that most pupils sit before finishing their secondary education. University entrance in the UK and abroad is heavily dependent on good A-Level grades, which pupils usually study for in 3 or 4 subjects after the age of 16.

Boarding schools usually publish their latest exam results prominently on their website. This data usually includes the percentage of A-Level passes broken down by subject and by grade, as well as overall performance statistics. 

Schools also usually publish their GSCE exam results, which indicate the number of pupils who achieved a pass at grade A* - C in 5 or more subjects.

The GCSE is a qualification taken by most students when they are 16, and students typically study around 10 subjects to give them a broad base for their education in the junior years of secondary. 

In England, there is strong reform movement in education which would like to replace the GSCE and A-Level qualifications with an English version of the Baccalaureate exam.

This situation is developing, and it is worth asking your childs prospective school what stage they have reached in preparing for these proposed changes at the time of enrolment. 

In Scotland, pupils sit Advanced Highers and Highers, which are roughly equivalent in level to A-Level and GSCE and are valid entrance qualifications for universities in England, Scotland and the rest of the EU. 

Which schools have the best A-Level results?

So how can the A-Level pass rate help you choose a school? Because it‘s the main benchmark for exam success, the pass rate is a key indicator of the quality of teaching and individual support that pupils can expect.

If you’re looking for a school for a particularly academic child, this is likely to be an important consideration for you. Figures from 2012 suggest that the average A-Level pass rate is around 72% across the top 30 boarding schools.

However, look a little closer and the schools that top the table for this particular criterion achieve scores of near 100%.

The top schools include Wycliffe School (99%), Eton College (95%), Westminster School (98%) and St. Pauls School (98%).

Are A-Level passes the whole story?

On the other hand, A-Level success shouldn’t be the only thing to consider, as of course not all pupils will benefit from the pressure of a strongly academic environment.

A school where the ethos is to encourage children to always do their best in line with their ability might be better suited to your child.

In many of the best boarding schools, the emphasis placed on so-called “traditional” A-Level subjects at the expense of more modern or vocational subjects may also not be in tune with your child’s ideal curriculum.

Discussing these options is a must when helping your child choose where to attend school.

Increasingly, the A-Level result is complemented or replaced by the International Baccalaureate, which offers a broad education rather than the in-depth but narrower curriculum that A-Levels offer.

Some schools are also beginning to offer elements of newer qualifications such as the Pre-U exams and the secondary Diploma.

Additionally, some sixth form pupils undertake extended projects that are intended to help them prepare for independent study at university. 

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