GCSE top grades fall but remain above pre-pandemic levels
Hundreds of thousands of teenagers across the country received their GCSE exam results this morning
The proportion of GCSE entries awarded top grades has fallen from last year but is higher than before the Covid-19 pandemic, national figures show.
Hundreds of thousands of teenagers across the country received their GCSE exam results on Thursday in a year when efforts have been made in England to return grading to pre-pandemic levels.
More than a fifth (22.0%) of UK GCSE entries were awarded the top grades – at least a 7 or an A grade – this year, down by 4.3 percentage points on last year when 26.3% of entries achieved the top grades.
However, this remains higher than the equivalent figure for 2019 – before the pandemic – of 20.8%.
The figures, published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), cover GCSE entries from students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Overall, there were around 203,000 fewer top grades (7/A) compared with last year, but there were 142,000 more top grades awarded this year than in 2019.
The proportion of entries getting at least a 4 or a C grade – considered a “standard pass” – has fallen from 73.2% in 2022 to 68.2% this year – a drop of five percentage points, but higher than 67.3% in 2019.
The overall rate for grades 1/G or above is 98%, down from 98.4% in 2022 and 98.3% in 2019.
In England, exams regulator Ofqual said this year’s GCSE results would be lower than last year and they would be similar to those in 2019.
But Ofqual has built protection into the grading process which should enable a pupil to get the grade they would have received before the pandemic even if their quality of work is a little weaker this year.
It comes after Covid-19 led to an increase in top grades in 2020 and 2021, with results based on teacher assessments instead of exams.
Last week, the proportion of A-level entries achieving top grades fell – with some 73,000 fewer top A-level grades than last year – but it remained above pre-pandemic levels.
Girls continued their lead over boys for the top GCSE grades, with 24.9% of entries awarded 7/A or above compared with 19.1% for males – a gap of 5.8 percentage points.
But the gap has narrowed from last year when girls were ahead of boys by 7.4 percentage points (30.0% girls, 22.6% boys) and from 2019 when girls led by 6.5 percentage points.
It is the narrowest lead enjoyed by girls at 7/A since 2009.
The gender gap has also narrowed for entries achieving a grade 4 or above.
According to figures from Ofqual, the number of 16-year-old students in England who received a 9 – the highest grade under the numerical grading system – in all their subjects has nearly halved from last year.
Some 1,160 16-year-olds in England taking at least seven GCSEs achieved a grade 9 in all their subjects, compared with 2,193 last year and 837 in 2019.
While traditional A*-G grades are used in Northern Ireland and Wales, in England these have been replaced with a 9-1 system, where 9 is the highest.
A 4 is broadly equivalent to a C grade, and a 7 is broadly equivalent to an A.
Business studies has seen the biggest jump in entries among major subjects this year – up 14.8% on last year – while Spanish entries have increased by 11.3% compared with 2022.
More than 390,000 certificates were awarded to students for Level 2 vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) taken in schools and colleges alongside, or as an alternative, to GCSEs.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “An enormous amount of hard work has gone into these qualifications in often difficult circumstances and the young people receiving their results today deserve great credit for what they have achieved.”
He added: “We would caution against direct comparisons between this year’s grades and those in 2019 because of the disproportionate impact of the pandemic and subsequent cost-of-living crisis on young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“It is likely that the outcomes for many of these young people will be affected by these factors and this may also impact on the results of schools which serve disadvantaged communities.
“The Government has failed to grasp the gravity of this issue. It did not invest sufficiently in education recovery from the pandemic – causing its own recovery commissioner to resign in protest – and it has failed to address the high level of child poverty in the UK. We are concerned that this will lead to a widening of the attainment gap between rich and poor.”
Schools minister Nick Gibb acknowledged that progress on closing the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils had “been undone” during the pandemic.
He told BBC Breakfast: “We did achieve a 9% closing of that gap for secondary and we closed the gap by 13% for primary, but that has been undone, as you say, by Covid, and now we need to get back to normality.
“We’ve got the recovery programme happening in our schools right now. And then we need to get back to the reform programme to make sure that we can continue to close that gap.”
Margaret Farragher, chief executive of the JCQ, said: “This year’s results recognise the fantastic achievements of students across the country. They have worked incredibly hard throughout the pandemic period to achieve these well-earned grades.
“The 2023 results show that students are well equipped to continue their educational journey.”
In Scotland, the national results for the National 5 qualifications were published earlier in the month and showed that the pass rate was 78.8% – down from 80.8% last year, but up from 78.2% in 2019.Published: by Radio NewsHub