Six statistics that explain A-levels results day 2022

One of UK higher education’s leading data scientists, DataHE’s founder Mark Corver presents the key statistics that will define this year’s turbulent A levels and clearing season

August 18, 2022
Clearing phonecall

With a record 250,000 18-year-olds from England, Northern Ireland and Wales holding offers ahead results this year, A-levels day was once again a major event for many universities. It often yields important signals about the direction of the system as a whole.

Here are the key statistics for these young people and what they say:


A-level grades are the bedrock of the admissions process and used to be reliably stable. Not so in the past few years. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of A*/A grades awarded jumped by 160,000.

This year, 60,000 of those were taken back, giving the third enormous, even once unimaginable, move in grades in as many years. Using the grade shifts in awarding data, we estimate the average A-level points achieved by young university applicants fell by 0.8 this year, almost a grade.

This is the largest shift down ever, second in size only to the increase of 1.3 in 2020 (2021 was 0.5). Artificial falls in grades are much easier for universities to manage than increases.


Teacher predictions of applicant strength have been a stable anchor in contrast with the large movements in awarded grades.

University applicants this year would have had the strongest set of GCSEs ever, around three to four grades higher than the previous cohort. This would likely have increased predicted grades a bit, so expectations of top grades would reasonably have been higher than ever. In 2021, the proportion of university applicants with A levels awarded AAB or better, seen as the threshold for highly selective universities, was 51.5 per cent. This year, we calculate the proportion getting these grades will have fallen to around 41.5 per cent.

This move equates to around 20,000 applicants doing worse than they might reasonably have expected and will have been an element in the disappointment around results.

65 per cent

As number controls faded away in the early 2010s, and falling populations and cohort depletion temporarily weakened demand, applicants had what now looks like a brief golden age where choice increased and more applicants got into the universities they wanted.

The proportion of young applicants getting their first choice at results reached a grade-fuelled high of 73 per cent in 2021. This year, it has plunged to 65 per cent (more typical of results days of the past decade). This reduction is equivalent to some 24,000 young people not getting the first choice place they had planned for.

28 per cent

Not so long ago, it was popular to suggest scrapping the insurance choice, arguing that it served no real purpose given confirmation was virtually guaranteed and places of all types were plentiful in clearing.

This year, the role of the insurance choice has been more evident with almost 23,000 young people using it to get in, up 28 per cent on last year.

But it did not help everyone. Before results, a record 28,000 were not holding an offer, reflecting the greater difficulty of getting offers this year. After results, that number increased to 43,000, the highest number seen since 2012.


In the years following the removal of number controls, applicants sought out higher-tariff universities who could choose to grow at the pace they wanted. The large rises in grades in 2020 and 2021 interacting with conditional offers meant a loss of control at confirmation. This drove results day recruitment from 63,000 in 2019 to an astonishing 90,000 in 2021.

With those enlarged entry cohorts still on campus in 22/23, we estimated they might need to reduce admissions by 5,000 to 10,000 simply not to overstress on-campus capacity. This year, they cut offer rates and, with the lower grades, could be selective at confirmation. Young people with A levels placed at results day were down, by 12,000 (13 per cent), even if they remain at high levels. This has been the main element in driving down the total number of young people placed at results to the extent that the overall entry rate fell by 2 percentage points (though this may well recover as clearing progresses).

+5 per cent

Lower-tariff providers have had a difficult decade, characterised by their defining market, older UK students, being in structural decline due to the growing numbers entering at age 18.

This year, they increased their intake of the core young 18-year-old group by 5 per cent to a post-2012 high, gaining market share against other types of university. Our calculations on capacity suggest that if every potential place across lower- and medium-tariff providers were used, they might be able to take in 50,000 or more extra students compared with last year.

So, there are places for young people to go to university, but not necessarily where young applicants have grown accustomed to or where they want them to be. It is not clear yet how that will play out.

The data for this results day have felt more significant than most. Several measures of supply-demand balance in the system have swung dramatically away from students. Often they resemble the kind of cycles from a decade ago characterised by high demand, supply caps or both. With young demand likely to remain high, and the inflation-ravaged tuition fee set to make teaching UK undergraduates loss-making for many, it may not be a one-off.

 Mark Corver is a founder of DataHE and former head of data and analysis at Ucas.

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