With 2021 being just as disrupted and impacted by the pandemic as 2020, we were anticipating yet another unconventional Results Day, just with a few less governmental u-turns.

Luckily, there were no last minute grading changes, but it was a record-breaking day in many ways. An all-time high number of students, just shy of 400,000, confirmed a place on their first choice course. An 8% increase from 2020. 

But with the planned teacher assessments, institutions working hard all year round to inform and engage students ahead of Results Day, and students more equipped with their decision making than ever before, what was the story of the day? And what did we learn?

“The fact that students knew how they were going to get their grades early on means that they have been organised and have got their research done early. This has meant a much smoother A Level results day all round. it looks like the universities we work with are on/or above target, and the quality of calls has improved."

- Nick Willmer, Head of Education

Be careful not to deflate student morale

Graph showing student A Level grades in 2021

Word of the day seemed to be ‘inflation’, with a record 44.8% of all UK entries achieving a A* or A grade. It's a stark increase from the pre-pandemic levels. But the way the media reported this raises concern; this narrative can be damaging for students' well-being, and downplay their achievements. We're in a pandemic, and students have had to be assessed in an entirely novel way. The top tier grades may have caused havoc in the university admissions space, but let’s be wary of the story we’re telling around student achievement. ​

“We need to make sure all young people and their teachers feel confident that we value the hard work that these qualifications represent. A negative focus on grade inflation risks dismissing the huge learning curve our young people have been on and the skills and resilience they’ve developed in this period while ignoring the inbuilt inequalities of much of the pre-pandemic exam system.”

- The Welsh children’s commissioner, Sally Holland

Keeping tabs on the adjustment and direct personas


But with top grades comes the questions. What are you doing about adjustment students? From our National Clearing Survey, you’ll know the adjustment persona is one to watch. With more students getting top grades, and therefore accepted into their first choice, what does this mean for students looking to go through adjustment? And what are universities doing to retain students who over-achieved on their grades and are eligible for adjustment? Clearing presents an opportunity for those who are questioning their options and looking for something better. Be there at the forefront of their minds, to make sure you’re a destination that can tick those boxes.

As for the direct applicants, we know many students see Clearing as an active choice. From Results Day, 2,840 students placed directly to Clearing which is quite a drop year on year. But fear not, we know more students come through later on in the cycle, including mature students. Again, how can you get the message out to prospective applicants that your institution encourages career-changers, gap-year-travellers and later-in-life students to come start their future with you? 

Social mobility ​

We didn’t want to miss the opportunity to shout about some of the brilliant news stories that came from the day. Pupils at an inner-city state school are celebrating after 55 teenagers got the A-level grades needed for them to study at Oxbridge, which is more than the offers made to Eton College students (48 pupils, a fall from 69 offers last year). 

The majority of pupils at Brampton Manor Academy in Newham, east London, are from ethnic minority backgrounds, in receipt of free school meals, or will be the first in their family to attend university. There’s “black excellence in this building” says Brampton student Nyat Aron-Yohannes. What success stories do your institutions have to tell? Make sure you're sharing these on social media to foster that community and excitement. 

university students studying in the library

But Brampton Manor Academy is only one tale. The A-level attainment gap between rich and poor students, black pupils and those from other ethnic groups has widened in England this year. There’s so much more that needs to be done to prevent regressing on widening participation and make impactful change. ​

With that being said, girls continue the trend of outperforming boys at A Level; A*-A female students increased by 7.0 percentage points and male students by just 5.4. A Level maths female students also overtook male students for the first time in the number of A* grades achieved. The young women in society continue to keep tapping away at that glass ceiling and it’s more important now to squash any gender stereotypes on campus. Take a look at our resources, a whitepaper and webinar, to find out more. 

Civic course changes 

This generation never ceases to amaze us with their resilience, innovative and civic minded living. This attitude can be seen when looking at course popularity at both degree and A-Level level. Nursing course entries are up by 8%, along with other allied medicine subjects as Covid-19 continues to shine a light on the importance of healthcare and medicine. Geography A-level is up by 16.4%, arguably nodding to the desperate fight against Climate change which Gen Z have so passionately taken on as their own. And Psychology A-level is up by 8.5%, which could be linked to the increased dialogue around mental health and illness. What does this tell us? That a degree to these students is more than just a qualification, it’s a stepping stone to a fulfilling career that they can be passionate about. Your advertising and marketing of your courses needs to reflect that. Help them help make this world a better place.  ​

student thinking while researching on laptop

2021 was yet another indicator that Clearing is more than just Results Day and students are smarter and savvier with their decisions. Which means decisions are made slower and over the course of the summer season. The institutions that win are those who have the foresight to plan early, build on that awareness and have contingency budgets in place to pivot as Clearing unfolds.

But what we can see from this year, is that a university education has never been more competitive and students have never worked harder. Your institution needs to reflect how society is changing at the hands of this generation and adjust accordingly. 

If you would like to speak to one of our marketing experts about your strategy for 2021/22, looking to widening participation, conveying your value, and positioning yourselves as a forward thinking institution, get in touch today. ​

Article by

Eleana Davidson Native Author

Eleana Davidson

Senior Marketing Executive