The percentage of GCSE entries receiving the highest grades has declined compared to the previous year, although it remains higher than the pre-pandemic levels. Notably, students in England experienced a less favorable outcome compared to their counterparts in Wales and Northern Ireland, where the policy of maintaining grade inflation was upheld.
GCSE A-level results drop close to pre marks tumble
Today, a considerable number of adolescents have obtained their GCSE results, marking a year in which England endeavored to revert to grading standards seen prior to the pandemic.
In the current year, over one-fifth (22.0 percent) of GCSE entries across the UK secured the highest grades, denoted as a 7 or an A grade.
This indicates a decrease of 4.3 percentage points from the preceding year, during which 26.3 percent of entries attained these top grades. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that this figure remains higher than the corresponding statistic from 2019 – the period before the pandemic – which stood at 20.8 percent.
In a broader perspective, there was a notable decline of 203,000 top grades (7/A) in comparison to the previous year.
Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ)
However, in a positive turn, this year witnessed an increase of 142,000 top grades when compared to the figures from 2019. This data is sourced from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), encompassing England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
The percentage of entries achieving a minimum of a 4 or a C grade, categorized as a ‘standard pass,’ has experienced a decline from 73.2 percent in 2022 to 68.2 percent in the current year.
This indicates a decrease of five percentage points, although it remains higher than the 67.3 percent recorded in 2019. The collective rate of grades 1/G or higher stands at 98 percent, showing a slight decrease from 98.4 percent in 2022 and 98.3 percent in 2019.
In England, the examinations regulatory body, Equal, had projected that this year’s GCSE results would be comparatively lower than the previous year and would align more closely with the outcomes from 2019.
Nevertheless, Equal has implemented safeguards within the grading procedure to ensure that a student can attain the grade they would have received prior to the pandemic, even if their work’s quality is slightly diminished this year.
Specifically, in England, the percentage of GCSE entries obtaining grades 7/A or higher was 21.6 percent for the current year, marking a decrease of 4.4 percentage points from the previous year.
Meanwhile, in Wales, this figure stood at 21.7 percent, reflecting a decline of 3.4 points. In Northern Ireland, it was recorded at 34.5 percent, indicating a decrease of 2.5 points.
Both in Northern Ireland and Wales, the bodies overseeing examinations have indicated that a return to pre-pandemic levels is not anticipated until the following year. In Wales, this year’s GCSE results fell between those granted in 2022 – the initial year when students took exams post the onset of Covid-19 – and the GCSE results from 2019.
In the past week, there has been a decline in the percentage of A-level entries achieving top grades, GCSE resulting in approximately 73,000 fewer grades at the highest level compared to the previous year.
Despite this drop, the proportion of top grades remained more elevated than the levels seen before the pandemic. In GCSEs, girls have maintained their lead over boys in achieving the highest grades
About 24.9 percent of female students received grades 7/A or above, while only 19.1 percent of male students completed the same, creating a gap of 5.8 percentage points.
It’s worth noting that this gap has narrowed compared to the previous year when the difference was 7.4 percentage points (30.0 percent for girls and 22.6 percent for boys). The current opening is also smaller than the one observed in 2019, which was 6.5 percentage points.
16-year-old Students in England
This year’s lead held by girls in the 7/A grades category is the smallest since 2009. The gender gap has also lessened for entries attaining grades four or above.
According to data provided by Equal, the number of 16-year-old students in England who achieved a grade 9 in all their subjects has decreased by almost half compared to the previous year. Only 1,160 students in this age group received a grade 9 in all their GCSE subjects, as opposed to 2,193 last year and 837 in 2019.
While Northern Ireland and Wales continue to use traditional A*-G grades, England has shifted to a 9-1 grading system. In this system, a grade 4 is roughly equivalent to a C grade, while a grade 7 is comparable to an A.
University College London
An academic expert, Professor Mary Richardson from the Institute of Education at University College London, argues that returning to pre-pandemic grading standards for GCSEs was not the best approach, given the challenges faced by teenagers during the pandemic.
She suggests that England could have followed the lead of Wales and Northern Ireland, which took a more gradual approach to grading restoration. Professor Richardson believes that the impact of COVID-19, along with factors like Brexit, changes in funding, strikes, and teacher attrition, should have been considered for grading decisions.
Interestingly, there has been a significant rise in entries for business studies, with a 14.8 percent increase compared to the previous year. Additionally, Spanish language entries have grown by 11.3 percent from 2022.
In Level 2 vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs), over 390,000 certificates were awarded to students in schools and colleges. These qualifications are often pursued alongside or as alternatives to GCSEs.
Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL)
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), commended the hard work put in by students to achieve their qualifications, especially considering the challenging circumstances. He urged caution when comparing this year’s grades to 2019 due to the unequal impact of the pandemic and subsequent economic challenges on disadvantaged young people.
Grading procedures have now returned to their standard processes, meaning that students who would have attained a grade 4 prior to the pandemic are just as likely to achieve that same grade this year.
Furthermore, students today have an array of options available to them, offering greater variety than ever before. For instance, there are now high-quality T-levels, starting with fields like legal and agriculture from this September. Alternately, students can opt for A-levels or engage in practical learning through diverse apprenticeship programs, spanning areas from journalism to accountancy.
No matter the educational path students choose, they can be assured that it will equip them for a successful career.
As they embark on their next phase, I extend my best wishes to all students.
Moving to Scotland, the national GCSE results for National 5 qualifications were unveiled earlier this month. These GCSE results indicated a pass rate of 78.8 percent, a slight decrease from last year’s 80.8 percent but a rise from the 78.2 percent recorded in 2019.