“Exceptional” QE pupils respond to challenge of new A-levels with a record-breaking number of A* grades

“Exceptional” QE pupils respond to challenge of new A-levels with a record-breaking number of A* grades

Sixth-formers at QE achieved the School’s highest-ever total of the very top A-level grade – crowning an unbroken 13-year record of performance at the highest level.

Of the 482 A-levels taken, 46.9% were awarded A* – easily outstripping the previous record of 42.2% set in 2015.

Further analysis of QE’s results reveals that there is strength in depth, too: this is the 13th consecutive year in which the benchmark figure for the proportion of examinations awarded A*–B grades has topped 95%. The 2018 figure of 97.3% improves further on last year’s 96.0%.

Twenty-eight leavers have received offers from Oxford and Cambridge this year, while over the previous five years 144 boys from QE won Oxbridge places. The overwhelming majority of QE boys – more than 90% in 2017 – secure places at Russell Group universities, while a small but growing number have headed to Ivy League colleges in the US.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “Our boys have exceeded even our own expectations and I am absolutely delighted by these results, especially given the national context.

“To put our boys’ achievement in perspective, it is frequently noted that when major changes to examination systems are introduced, there is typically a dip in performance. This is often explained by the fact that teachers cannot use previous teaching materials and that there are no past papers for pupils to use in their preparation.

“The fact that there has been no such dip at QE – in fact, quite the contrary – is testament both to the boys’ exceptional efforts and to the dedication of our staff in preparing teaching and learning materials of the very highest order to make sure that the pupils did not lose out, despite their being ‘guinea pigs’ for the new system.

“There has also been speculation in the press that the introduction of these changes – which involve much greater emphasis on performance in examinations, rather than in coursework – would result in boys doing well at the top end. That has certainly been the case here.”

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, recently told the Times Educational Supplement that this year’s significant increase in the number of unconditional offers from universities could damp down top A-level pass rates.

Mr Enright explained why there had been no such effect at QE. “Our advice to the boys – which has indeed been the approach they have taken – has been that they should go for their optimal university place and not be swayed by any unconditional offers they may have received.

“We have urged on them the importance of understanding that their A-level results reflect their ability and hard work over the seven years they are at the School. They are also aware of the evidence concerning the most prestigious graduate jobs – that A-level outcomes are one of the first things that future employers will look at when considering applicants. In short, we believe that A-level performance remains absolutely critical.”

The Headmaster also welcomed recent indications that Ofsted will be placing a greater focus on the overall educational experience provided by schools, with a concomitant reduction of emphasis purely on examination results.

“At QE, although we regularly appear at or near the top of examination-based league tables, we emphatically do not want either Ofsted or the families of prospective pupils to judge the School by A-level or GCSE grades alone. The very strong results of our boys at A-level should be seen as a by-product of the whole QE experience, rather than the sole purpose of an education here.

“That experience includes, of course, high-quality opportunities in fields such as sport, music and drama. But also important is the spirit of scholarship that prevails at QE – the electric atmosphere generated by the presence of so many bright and ambitious people, both boys and their teachers, all working to cultivate habits of independent learning and deep academic curiosity.”

QE’s Year 13 pupils sat A-levels in 16 subjects this year, including a full range of the sciences and humanities. The most popular were Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics and Economics – taken by 116, 58, 48 and 46 boys respectively – while this year saw increases in the numbers taking French and German A-levels.

The School’s Year 12 boys also performed strongly at AS-level: the proportion of top grades (A) was up from 75.3% in 2017 to 79.7%, while the A-B figure also rose, from 91.5% to 92.8%.