Best London schools by A-level results
A-level results day is a tense culmination of two years of study and dedication – and it all hinges on the contents of an envelope. But it’s not just the students who cross their fingers and hope the three letters contained within match their expectations; for the school that has nurtured them through these qualifications for students aged 16 and above that can lead to university, the outcome is equally important.
The need to attract students to study these voluntary courses has created a competitive landscape in London that’s awash with high-performing school sixth forms and sixth form colleges. The annual London A-level table cuts through the noise by focusing on the obvious gauge of their educational offering: exam results. This performance-related data empowers you and your child to make an informed decision when choosing where they should study.
What A-Levels are
Before diving into the specifics of each top-performing school, let’s demystify what A-levels are. In the UK, A-levels, short for Advanced Levels, are a set of qualifications that students typically take at the age of 16-18, after completing their GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education). They are highly regarded by universities and employers alike and focus on a smaller range of subjects than GCSEs, but with greater depth. A-levels are crucial for students aiming to attend university, as they are a key criterion for university admissions. With a variety of subjects available, from traditional ones like Mathematics and English to more specialized options like Psychology and Media Studies, A-levels allow students to focus on their areas of interest and lay the groundwork for their future academic and career paths.
Comparing A-levels and IB (International Baccalaureate)
While A-levels are a hallmark of the British education system, another qualification often discussed in international circles is the International Baccalaureate (IB). Understanding the differences between these two can be vital for families considering global educational opportunities. The IB, offered in many schools worldwide, is an internationally-recognized program that encompasses a broader range of subjects compared to A-levels. Unlike A-levels, where students typically focus on three or four subjects, the IB Diploma requires studies in six subjects along with core components such as the Extended Essay, Theory of Knowledge, and CAS (Creativity, Activity, Service). While A-levels allow for specialization in specific areas, the IB Diploma offers a more holistic educational approach. This breadth versus depth contrast is crucial when considering the best fit for a student’s learning style and future academic or career aspirations.
The best London schools by A-Level results
While private schools dominated the upper echelons of the 2023 edition, two state schools topped the table. Here’s a breakdown of the top-performing schools in London by A-level results across key categories:
Top-performing school – King’s Maths School
Run in partnership with King’s College London University, this specialist co-ed state school in Lambeth aims to provide a high-quality maths education – making it ideal for students who have a fascination and aptitude for the subject. Its curriculum combines maths with physics and computing to offer students the skills and knowledge they need to study mathematical courses at top universities.
Students take A-levels in mathematics, further mathematics and physics, as well as an AS in either computing or economics. The class of 2023 attained table-topping A-level results, with 69% A* grades and 91% A*-A grades.
Top-performing all-boys school – Queen Elizabeth School
You’d be forgiven for assuming that the top-performing all-boys school is an independent institution – but you’d be wrong. This Ofsted-rated “outstanding” boys’ grammar school in Barnet was ranked the second-best school in the UK capital by A-level results in 2023.
QE is consistently among the highest-performing schools in the UK – both state and independent – for exam results and the progress students make beyond the classroom. In 2022, the school won the Sunday Times’ coveted State Secondary School of the Year title, before receiving a record 47 Oxbridge offers in 2023, surpassing the previous record of 40 places in 2020.
Top-performing all-girls school – St Paul’s Girls’ School
St Paul’s Girls’ School is an independent day school for girls in Hammersmith that’s been blazing a trail in the education of young women since it was founded in 1904. The school’s academic excellence earned it third place in the 2023 table, which is underpinned by a Senior School curriculum that emphasises depth of study and rewarding content that extends beyond the syllabus.
The courses on offer allow specialisation for students who know exactly where they are headed while preserving diversity of choice and the opportunity for breadth for all students. In 2023, 87.04% of A-level entries achieved an A* or A grade and 97.1% a B grade or higher.
Top-performing independent co-ed school – King’s College School Wimbledon
This independent day school for boys aged 7-18 and girls aged 16-18 is tucked away in a leafy corner of southwest London – made famous by its iconic tennis tournament. Founded in 1829 by royal charter, its rich history has been built on a combination of academic excellence and dedicated pastoral care.
KCS’s outstanding examination outcomes saw it ranked fourth in the 2023 table, which is testament to its ability to create the best possible foundations for it’s A-level student as they move into the next phase of their life. Consequently, an average of almost 25% of the upper sixth in the last seven years have gone on to Oxford and Cambridge.
Top-performing independent all-boys school – St Paul’s School
This independent school for boys aged 13-18 is located on a 43-acre site by the River Thames, in Barnes. For over 500 years it has been providing an outstanding intellectual, spiritual and physical education to its students. Today, it prepares them for their future by combining a rich tradition with the best of the present, allowing it to achieve its vision: “to nurture a generation of Paulines that will make a positive contribution to the world”.
In a typical A-level year group of approximately 200, between a quarter and a third of students accept offers from Oxbridge universities.
Top-performing sixth form college – Newham Collegiate Sixth Form
To understand the academic excellence offered by this free school sixth form college located in East Ham, you need look no further than the high praise lavished on it by the Good Schools Guide: “If NCS continues to deliver in the way in which it has begun, it will be the standard bearer for a whole new generation of schools. There are two irreducibles here: the enthusiasm and hard work of the students and the way they are storming every educational citadel that confronts them.”
Located within an iconic Grade 2* listed building, the college has a real Oxbridge vibe while maintaining a modern feel with cutting edge facilities – and the A-level results of the twelfth ranked institution in the list reflect this: in 2023 80% of students achieved A*-A and 97% A*-B.
Impact of A-level results on university admissions
The influence of A-level results on university admissions cannot be overstated. For students aspiring to attend university, A-level grades are often the primary criteria for admission, especially in the UK. Universities typically offer places based on students achieving certain grades in their A-levels. High grades can open doors to prestigious universities and sought-after courses, while grades that fall short of expectations may require students to reconsider their options, such as clearing or alternative courses. Additionally, some universities, particularly those outside the UK, may not be as familiar with A-levels, requiring students to provide additional context or consideration for their qualifications. This underscores the importance of not only achieving good results but also understanding how these results are interpreted in different educational systems. For international students, this means carefully researching how A-levels translate into their university of choice’s admission criteria.
Empowered by this knowledge, you and your child can make the right decision for them, so they have the best chance of achieving their goals both in terms of exam results and their journey beyond – whether they choose to go to university or enter the world of work.