An analysis of the GCE A* grade

The General Certificate of Education (GCE) A* grade was first awarded to students in 2010. It was introduced to assist higher education institutions in differentiating between the highest performing students and to promote and reward greater stretch and challenge. This paper, based on a synthesis of key policy documents, an analysis of quantitative data and a review of existing research, provides an analysis of the GCE A* grade. The paper begins by introducing the historical and political context that led to the introduction of the A* grade, drawing together policy documents and research carried out by the awarding bodies. The paper then presents an analysis of 2011 A-level data, considering the characteristics of students who achieve the grade and addressing concerns around equality and fairness. A further line of evidence concerns public confidence in the new grade, especially in relation to whether it is fulfilling its purposes. The paper concludes by identifying a number of policy lessons for the future of the GCE A* grade. Forthcoming reforms to the A-level will necessitate a reappraisal of the way A* is calculated: this paper will be a useful source of evidence with which to consider the issues.

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