Why are AS level and A level entries continuing to fall in Wales?

Tom Anderson, our Head of Research and Statistics, explains why A level entries in Wales continues to fall.

 By Tom Anderson, Head of Research and Statistics 

Last summer, I published a blog on the subject of falling AS and A level entries in Wales.

Our latest official statistics show that the total number of entries to AS and A level qualifications in Wales decreased again this summer.

This year there were 41,415 AS level entries. That’s a 27.4% overall decrease from the 2015 high of 57,030 entries.

Similarly, but not as dramatically, A level entries shrank by 17% over the same period, from 38,480 in 2015 to 31,925 in 2019.

So, what’s the explanation for these falls?

It’s important to say that there are likely to be a range of factors explaining the trend, such as:

  • a smaller population size, reducing the number of learners that could choose to enter AS levels and A levels;
  • a fall in the average number of AS and A level qualifications taken by learners; and
  • an increase in learners choosing to study other qualifications, enter training or starting apprenticeships.

Most AS level entries are by 17-year-olds, whereas most A level entries are by 18-year-olds. According to Welsh Government statistics, the numbers of students in maintained secondary schools in Wales has decreased in recent years. For example, in the four years between 2013/14 and 2016/17, the number fell by 9.2%. This has reduced the number of learners that can choose to do AS and A levels in Wales.

We also looked at exam board data on the number of learners achieving at least one AS level, A level or the Advanced Welsh Baccalaureate.

The number of students in Wales achieving at least one of these qualifications has also decreased, by 13.5% for 17-year-olds and 8.1% for 18-year-olds (over the four years between 2014/15 and 2017/18). The rate of decrease for 18-year-olds is broadly similar to the decrease in the number of learners in Year 11, but slightly faster for 17-year-olds.

These trends suggest that decreases in the population of 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds in Wales has been a major cause of the fall in entries for AS and A level qualifications. There may, however, still be other factors contributing to changes in entries, particularly in the case of 17-year-olds.

Digging deeper into the data showed that among 17-year-olds, fewer of them are taking four or more AS levels, with more learners choosing to take three.

Among 18-year-olds, the most popular route is to take three A levels along with the Advanced Welsh Baccalaureate. The proportion of 18-year-olds taking at least one AS level has also reduced, which helps to explain why AS entries have fallen more quickly than A level entries.