Friday Five: A-Level predictions, navigating policy tensions, teacher opinion, post-18 plans, lead exposure


11th August 2023

1. CEER report on A-Level 2023 prospects ahead of results day

A new report by the Centre for Education and Employment Research analyses trends in A-level results to predict the much-anticipated results for the year 2023. During the two years of teacher assessment of A-Levels due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an explosion of top grades, where the percentage of A*s almost trebled and A*/A grades doubled in a period of two years. With the return to exams, the government is seeking to restore pre-pandemic standards, aiming to award nearly 100,000 fewer A* grades. By considering past trends, the report predicts that in 2023 approximately 10% A* grades and 27.5% A*/A grades are likely to be awarded. The report also covers a few other trends, such as the difference in exam results between boys and girls and across the different nations in the UK, as well as trends in subject choices of students at A-Level. However, it seems likely that the drop in top grades is unlikely to be steep, owing to a number of political considerations. Baz Ramaiah, the Head of Policy at CfEY, also weighed in on the matter on TalkTV, as he took the opportunity to highlight the inequities existing in the current examination system that tends to disproportionately favour wealthier privileged pupils. 

Read the full report here.

2. New CfEY and IPPR report explores policy tensions in curriculum, assessment, and mental health and wellbeing

This week, we shared a new report with IPPR, co-authored by our co-founder Loic Menzies (our founder), Will Yates, and Billy Huband-Thompson (CfEY Associate). The evidence review, supported by Big Change, looks at some of the policy tensions surrounding curriculum, assessment, and mental health and wellbeing, and presents some potential ways forward for a new governent.

There has been lots of commentary about the report online, including a Schools Week article from Samantha Booth, which picks up on five key proposals from the report:

  • Multi-year league table measures, which could ease the pressure on schools but also allow the government to hold schools to account
  • Reviewing whether pupil-level grading is needed and considering school-only SAT grades
  • Keeping an emphasis on a core body of knowledge and skills but allowing some room for context-informed curricula and wider enrichment
  • Reconsidering the EBacc’s component subjects and whether it should exist at all, with a view to ensuring students can access a good breadth of subjects
  • Schools can act as hubs for specialist support, while further evidence is needed on full service extended schools

The report contains a wealth of insights and much to discuss – keep an eye out for a response from our current CEO, as he shares his thoughts on curriculum and assessment.

Read the full report here.

Read the Schools Week article here.

3. Teacher Tapp surveys reveal data on hours, lesson observations, and a range of other topics

Teacher Tapp has published comparative analyses of a number of different surveys from 2017-2023. In the context of longstanding teacher recruitment and retention challenges, as well as a cost of living crisis, it is fascinating to see how teachers are navigating their working arrangements and additional summer work. In addition, the data contains fascinating insights about teacher preferences in terms of maintained/academy status, leadership, and a range of other insights. Here are a few that stand out:

  • Data from a survey on pensions and pay cuts shows that teachers are increasingly reducing their hours or job roles to take less pay in order to improve their well-being. The trend is almost entirely among older teachers. 
  • Another survey shows that more teachers are taking paid work over the summer, up from 8% in 2018 to 14% in 2023. 
  • As for teachers’ preference for working in an LA school or an academy, survey data shows that 68% of teachers prefer a job in a local authority school. The preference for a local authority school has reduced a little over the years, but not by much. 
  • Another survey shows that 77% of subject leaders are now also doing lesson observations, up from 69% in 2022. 

Read the results of all of the surveys here

4. New COSMO report looks at ‘The Class of 2023’ and their future plans.

A new COVID Social Mobility & Opportunities (COSMO) publication looks at the plans of those who took A-Levels and other qualifications this summer. Several findings caught our eye.

20% of the cohort plan to live at home if they get into their preferred university. However, this figure is higher for disadvantaged students – 33% of university applicants from households which have fallen behind on housing payments are planning on living at home, compared to 17% of those from families who had not. Indeed, 18% of those planning to live at home are doing so principally because they could not afford to live away from home.

Affordability was also a key consideration when it came to young people’s HE access, with 22% of those who do not plan to apply for university reporting that this decision was made because they could not afford to go. These figures were higher for those from working class families compared to those with professional and managerial parents (27% vs 19%). There was also a marked difference between those from families who had used food banks compared to those who had not (39% vs 19%).

The authors note that while The Class of 2023 are “among the most university-inclined cohorts ever seen in England”, there are still various barriers that may deter young people from university access, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Overall, the findings suggest that the financial support available upfront for students is insufficient. From this vantage, the authors make the case for the reintroduction of maintenance grants for those from disadvantaged households.

Read the full report here.

5. High lead exposure hampers children’s ability to learn – report by Center for Global Development

Washington-based Center for Global Development has carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis of over 47 studies to study the relationship between lead exposure and learning outcomes. Around half of children in low-income countries have elevated blood lead levels. Results from the research indicate that over a fifth of the gap in learning outcomes between rich and poor countries can be attributed to increased lead exposure. The data implies that moderate learning gains can be achieved by undertaking targeted interventions for highly exposed groups and modest learning gains can be obtained from broad public health campaigns.

These results are also relevant for the UK, due to growing evidence of lead contamination in the water supply with over three million contaminated pipelines still operating in the network.

Read the full report here


That’s all for this week. Please do share this blog if you found it useful and follow @Barristotle and @billyhubt for further commentary. You can keep up to date with all things CfEY through our our News and Events page and by signing up to our mailing list.