Hundreds of thousands of pupils are awaiting A-level exam results across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with grades expected to be lower than during the pandemic but higher than 2019.
Students who sat exams for the first time since before the coronavirus outbreak are expected to face tough competition for university places, with institutions known to have been more conservative in their offers this year.
Admissions service Ucas has said it expects record or near-record numbers of students to get onto their first-choice courses, but warned the process will not be “pain-free” for all, as some students are left disappointed.
This year’s grades aim to reflect a midway point between 2021 – when pupils were assessed by their teachers – and 2019.
Record numbers of students, including high numbers of disadvantaged students, are still expected to start university in September, the Department for Education said.
All students should be proud of their achievements, having dealt with disruption to their schooling during the pandemic, Education Secretary James Cleverly said.
He said: “Every single student collecting their results today should be proud of their achievements. Not only have they studied throughout the pandemic, but they are the first group in three years to sit exams.
“For that, I want to congratulate them and say a huge thank you to those who helped them get to this point.”
The results will be a testament to students’ resilience and hard work, as well as the efforts of their teachers, the Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said.
He added: “The class of 2022 has faced unprecedented disruption to their education and many have never taken public exams before due to the pandemic.
“So, their achievements are a testament to their resilience and hard work throughout this period, and to their outstanding teachers and support staff who have helped them to achieve success.”
The school leaders’ union NAHT also paid tribute to pupils for their “resilient and tenacious” approach to meeting the challenges they have faced.
Paul Whiteman, union general secretary, said: “They have experienced large amounts of disruption due to Covid throughout their courses and have worked hard with their school’s support to achieve today’s results.
“For many students receiving results today, these will have been the first formal national exams they have ever taken.”
Russell Hobby, chief executive of Teach First, said the “sad truth” is that those who do not achieve grades that reflect their true potential “will be disproportionately from poorer backgrounds”, describing the attainment gap in this country as one that remains “stark”.
New T-level results will also be received for the first time by around 1,000 students in England on Thursday.
The qualifications, which are broadly equivalent to three A-levels, offer students practical and knowledge-based learning at a school or college and on-the-job experience.
Mr Cleverly assured students that no matter what grades they might get, “there has never been a better range of opportunities available”.
He said: “Whether going on to one of our world-leading universities, a high-quality apprenticeship, or the world of work, students have exciting options as they prepare to take their next steps.”
Almost 40% of students are thought likely to make use of the clearing system to get a place on a course.
The secret to navigating results day is to come armed and ready for whatever outcome💪Check out our Ultimate Guide to Result Day, for more last-minute preparation tips ✅ https://t.co/iAqXXsn9yV pic.twitter.com/mh4lxYpDYn
— UCAS (@ucas_online) August 17, 2022
Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant this week said Government departments and regulators are “working to make sure that, through all of our social media messaging, that support is around” for students on Thursday.
Childline said its counselling sessions about exam results worries were higher every month since January compared to the same period in 2020/21, with the greatest number taking place in June.
Shaun Friel, the charity’s director, said: “Children have had to contend with a huge amount because of the pandemic and it’s no surprise that with exams returning to normal for the first time this year, we’re seeing a rise in anxiety levels.
“We hear from lots of children who are concerned about their results and it’s really important they know that there is someone they can talk to who will listen to their worries. This could be a teacher, careers adviser, parent, carer or Childline.”
Meanwhile, staff at exam board AQA are taking part in strike action over the next few days and next week when GCSE results are due out.
Unison said the action is planned as part of a long-running dispute regarding pay and fire and rehire threats to staff, but AQA said it had “robust contingency plans in place to ensure that industrial action has no effect on results”.