Students aged 16 to 18 achieving 3 A grades or better at A level
The main facts and figures show that:
225,732 students at the end of 16 to 18 study were entered for A levels in 2016, and ethnicity was known for 183,646 students (81%) of them
of the students entered for A levels for whom ethnicity was known, 77% were White, 11% were Asian, 5% were Black, 4% had Mixed ethnicity, 1% were Chinese and 2% came from the Other ethnic group
overall, 13% of students achieved 3 A grades or better at A level
24% of Chinese students achieved 3 A grades or better, followed by 11% of Mixed students, 11% of White students, 11% of Other ethnic group students, 10% of Asian students and 5% of Black students
from 2010/11 to 2015/16, Chinese students were consistently most likely to achieve 3 A grades or better at A level and Traveller of Irish Heritage students and Gypsy/Roma students were least likely to
Things you need to know
Ethnicity was not known for 18% of students who entered A levels in 2015/16. This is mainly due to students attending independent (non-state) schools not having their ethnicity recorded on the Department for Education’s school census.
Ethnicity wasn't known for 0.8% of students who were included in the school census, but whose ethnicity was not recorded.
In 2016, the Department for Education (DfE) changed the way it counts students included in this measure. Between 2011 and 2015, it included students who were entered for at least one A level, which may have been combined with other, different qualifications. From 2016, it only included students who were studying A levels alone, not combined with any other type of qualification.
This means that the number of students included is lower in 2016 than it was between 2011 and 2015. Because of this change in methodology, it’s difficult to draw any reliable conclusions about changes in A level attainment over the period studied.
The DfE has excluded, or ‘suppressed’, very small numbers (for example, values of 1 or 2, a percentage based on 1 or 2 pupils who achieved, or 0, 1 or 2 pupils who did not achieve a particular level).
This is because, where the size of the ethnic group population is small enough that an individual’s identity could be revealed, information is suppressed to preserve confidentiality. This is consistent with DfE’s statistical policy statement on confidentiality (PDF).
What the data measures
This data measures the percentage of students in England aged 16 to 18 years who achieved 3 A grades or better at A level broken down by ethnicity.
Students aged 16 to 18 are typically in school years 12 and 13 (sometimes called 'sixth form').
The data covers the academic years from 2010/11 to 2015/16 (September 2010 to July 2016).
The ethnic categories used in this data
This data uses categories from the Department for Education’s school census, which is broadly based on the 2001 national Census, with 3 exceptions:
- Traveller of Irish Heritage and Gypsy/Roma children have been separated into 2 categories
- Sri Lankan has been added to the Asian/Asian British group but is not reported separately
- Chinese pupils have been assigned a separate category
These changes were made after consultations with local authorities and lobby groups.
The categories in the school census are as follows:
- White British
- White Irish
- Traveller of Irish Heritage
- Other White
Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups:
- White and Black Caribbean
- White and Black African
- White and Asian
- Other Mixed background
- Sri Lankan
- Other Asian background
- Black African
- Black Caribbean
- Other Black background
- Other ethnic group
Information is provided for both detailed and broad ethnic groups where possible and when the data is available.
The 6 broad categories used are as follows:
- Asian/Asian British
- Black/African/Caribbean/Black British
- Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups
- Other ethnic group
Students aged 16 to 18 achieving at least 3 A grades at A level by ethnicity
Percentage and number of students achieving at least 3 A grades at A level by ethnicity
|All||13||withheld to protect confidentiality||13||withheld to protect confidentiality||13||withheld to protect confidentiality||12||withheld to protect confidentiality||12||withheld to protect confidentiality||13||withheld to protect confidentiality|
|Mixed White/Black African||9||63||11||76||8||61||7||64||8||84||9||75|
|Mixed White/Black Caribbean||6||102||6||99||6||112||5||104||5||116||7||125|
|White||withheld to protect confidentiality||withheld to protect confidentiality||10||17,831||withheld to protect confidentiality||withheld to protect confidentiality||withheld to protect confidentiality||withheld to protect confidentiality||9||16,084||11||15,137|
|White Irish Traveller||0||0||0||0||withheld to protect confidentiality||withheld to protect confidentiality||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|White Gypsy/Roma||withheld to protect confidentiality||withheld to protect confidentiality||0||0||withheld to protect confidentiality||withheld to protect confidentiality||withheld to protect confidentiality||withheld to protect confidentiality||9||3||0||0|
This data shows that:
Chinese students were consistently most likely to achieve 3 A grades or better at A level – 24% did so in 2015/16
although the chart and table show that 0% of Gypsy/Roma and Traveller of Irish Heritage students achieved 3 A grades or better at A level in 2015/16, sample sizes for this group are small (17 and 4 students respectively) so any generalisations based on this result are very unreliable
students from the Black Caribbean and Other Black ethnic groups were consistently least likely to achieve 3 A grades or better at A level (not including the Traveller of Irish Heritage and Gypsy/Roma groups) – in 2015/16, 3% and 5% respectively did so
in 2015/16, 11% of White British students achieved 3 A grades or better at A level
in 2015/16, 18% of students who were entered for A levels weren't matched to school census records, usually because they had previously attended an independent school – 26% of this group achieved 3 A grades or better at A level
The data used for this analysis comes from the National Pupil Database.
Between 2011 and 2014/15, students included in this measure were at the end of A level study and had entered at least one A level, applied single award A level or applied double award A level in the corresponding academic year (for example, the 2014/15 academic year for 2015 data). An applied double award A level at grade A*A* counts as two grade A*s, AA counts as two grade As and an award at grade AB counts as one grade A.
From 2015/16, students included in this measures were at the end of A level study and met the following criteria:
- they had entered one or more full-size A levels (including A levels or applied levels, not including AS levels, applied AS levels, general studies or critical thinking)
- if they had entered fewer than 3 full-size A levels, they were only included in the measure if they hadn't entered for other academic, applied general or tech level qualifications greater than the size of an A level.
Characteristics such as ethnicity and free school meal eligibility are not routinely or consistently collected for students aged 16 to 18 years. To get characteristics data for these students, their exam records were matched to spring census records for the academic year 3 years before they reached the end of their A levels. A 3-year time lag was chosen because characteristics, such as ethnicity, are unlikely to change. This enables a match for students that have taken either 2 or 3 years to complete their advanced level.
This method enabled 82.2% of students who completed 16 to 18 study in 2015/16 to be matched to their census data.
Students who were unmatched might have:
- attended an independent school before their A levels and therefore not been captured in the school census
- moved to England after the census data was collected
- taken longer than 3 years to complete A levels after finishing their GCSEs
The distribution of characteristics of the unmatched students is likely to be different from those who have been matched, particularly because students from independent schools are more likely to be high achievers. In 2015/16 the percentage of students achieving 3 A grades or better for all students was 13.2%. For matched students this figure was 10.5%, and for unmatched students it was 25.6%.
In some of the years published in the underlying tables, there were a very small number of duplicate students records (less than 0.5%). Some of these duplicates reflect students registered twice, but the numbers were small enough to have little impact, so these records were left in.
Suppression rules and disclosure control
Values of 1 or 2, or a percentage based on 1 or 2 pupils who achieved; or 0, 1 or 2 pupils who did not achieve a particular level are suppressed in circumstances where non-suppression would lead to disclosure of pupils. Some additional figures have been suppressed to prevent the possibility of a suppressed figure being revealed.
This suppression is consistent with DfE’s statistical policy statement on confidentiality (PDF).
This data doesn't include the numerator (pupils who achieved 3 A grades or better at level) or denominator (all pupils who took A levels), as publishing this information would compromise suppression.
For the same reason, in years where one of the detailed ethnic breakdowns (for example Gypsy/Roma) has been suppressed, the figures for the broad ethnic group (White) are also suppressed. The Code of Practice for Official Statistics requires DfE to take reasonable steps to ensure that their published or disseminated statistics protect confidentiality.
For more information about DfE’s disclosure control procedures for its statistical releases please see DfE’s statistical policy statement on confidentiality (PDF).
Percentages in the charts and tables are rounded to the nearest whole number.
You can see percentages rounded to 1 decimal place if you download the data.Quality and methodology information
Further technical information
Type of data
Type of statistic
Department for Education
Purpose of data source
The main purpose is to measure schools' and students' performance, to monitor and improve standards and inform parental choice.
Download the data
This file contains: ethnicity, year, numerator, denominator