Results back to pre-pandemic levels as grading returns to normal

Over 640,000 young people are celebrating receiving GCSE results today (24 August) and over 390,000 vocational qualifications are being awarded today as young people prepare to move on to the next phase of their education. 

The proportion of entries achieving top grades (grade 7 and above) and standard passes (grade 4) are consistent with 2019, as grading moves back to normal.

Schools minister, Nick Gibb said: “Pupils receiving their results today should feel very proud. I want to congratulate them all and give my thanks to the hardworking teaching staff that have helped them throughout this period.

“Today’s results are a testament to this government’s longstanding work to drive up standards and expanding opportunities for all in our education system.

“Pupils collecting results today can progress to one of many high-quality options including A-levels, T-levels and apprenticeships.”

GCSE entries to modern foreign languages (MFL) this year increased by 5.1% compared to last year, and 9.2% compared to 2019, with increases in Spanish and French. The Department for Education said this is ahead of the additional £14.9m investment for the language hubs programme due to start in September.

Entries to subjects in the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects, which are considered essential to many degrees and other opportunities, have also seen an increase this year including in computer science and history.

Total entries across all EBacc subjects is up by 3.9% this year compared to last year, and 11.2% compared to 2019. 

The government said that the gap between independent schools and academies at grade 7 has narrowed from 33.3% in 2021 to 27.5% in 2022 to 25.5% in 2023. It has also narrowed from 26.5% in 2019.  

Pupils collecting results today will progress to one of many high-quality options including A-levels, hundreds of apprenticeship routes, Vocational Technical Qualifications (VTQs) or T-levels. From September, students will be able to study new T-levels in legal and agriculture, with further options available over the next few years. The government said this will add to the 16 already available in subjects such as health, engineering and digital.

Grading has returned to normal this year for the first time after the pandemic, in line with plans set out by Ofqual over two years ago. The Department for Education said this is to ensure that grades maintain their value and pupils get the result that best represents their performance. 

Top grades for 16-year-olds in England are in line with 2019, with 22.4% of entries achieving a grade 7 and above. This is up 0.6ppt from 2019. This year’s results show that 70.3% of entries received a grade 4 or above – a standard pass – which is up 0.4ppt from 2019.

To recognise the disruption pupils faced because of the pandemic, the government said pupils did receive extra support with formulae and equation sheets for GCSE maths, physics, and combined science exams, so there were fewer things to remember going into the exam. Exams in the same subject were also spread out more, meaning students had more time to revise between papers.

Responding to this morning’s exam results for GCSEs and VTQs , Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “We warmly congratulate students as they receive their results across a wide range of qualifications.

“These are testament to young people’s resilience following the pandemic and the hard work of themselves and of all school and college staff.

“These achievements should be celebrated and in no way diminished by the government’s decision to move back to pre-pandemic grading in England, which was always going to impact overall results. 

“The student cohort, the context and the approach to grading has been different every year since 2019 so these results are in no way comparable with previous years.

“Yet young people’s ability to flourish and to progress in the next stage of their education or training is being hampered by government policy which imposes high stakes accountability upon schools and limits students in their choice of GCSE and VTQ qualifications.

“It is high time that school performance tables were scrapped and school leaders empowered to develop and deliver a curriculum and qualification offer that truly meets the needs of their students.”

Reflecting the fact that digital is one of the fastest growing industries and contributes significantly to the UK economy, there has been a 13.5% increase in pupils taking computer science since 2019 including more girls. There are similar trends at A-level.

Steve Young, UK senior vice presider and general manager of Dell Technologies, said: “We congratulate students receiving their results today for showing incredible resilience in the face of unparalleled disruption to their education. 

“But disruption doesn’t stop –  the workplace is evolving at astonishing speed, and many young learners getting their results today will find themselves in jobs that don’t even exist yet. 

“The number of students taking design and technology at GCSE and A-level remains low, so for the UK to build a tech talent pipeline that will keep us relevant in the global digital economy, perhaps we need to think more broadly and inclusively about what a future STEM education might look like. 

“Half of the UK school students we surveyed said they would like more technology-related subjects, such as e-sports, added to the school curriculum to improve their career prospects. Passion-led learning through subjects like gaming, while considered ‘unconventional’ by some, can nurture incredibly valuable skills, including problem-solving, strategic thinking and collaboration, and encourage more students to pursue technical education and career pathways. 

“To ensure we support future learners with the skills they need and lay the best foundation for the future UK workforce, the public, private and third sectors have a responsibility to collaborate and explore fresh and exciting ways of teaching and learning at all levels of education.”

Education secretary Gillian Keegan commented on today’s results, saying: “Congratulations to everyone receiving their results. This cohort have shown tremendous resilience in recent years and should be proud of all the work they’ve done to reach this milestone.

“Grading is returning to normal which means a pupil who would have achieved a grade 4 before the pandemic, is just as likely to achieve that this year.

“Students now have more options to choose from than ever before – such as our high-quality T-levels, including legal and agriculture starting from this September. They can also take A-levels or earn and learn on a wide range of apprenticeships, from journalism to accountancy. 

“Whichever path students decide to take, they can have confidence it will set them up for a successful career.I wish everyone the very best as they move onto their next chapter”.

Today’s GCSE results showed a greater proportion of students in England will have to resit maths and English exams during post-16 education.

Responding to this, Sarah Hannafin, head of policy at school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Urgent change is needed to the current government policy which forces some students into what can be a dispiriting round of resits for maths and English until they achieve the required grade.  

“All students should develop the knowledge and skills in maths and English to enable them to progress to the next stage of their education or training, and for many students this will be achieved through GCSEs. But for some young people alternative qualifications in maths and English would be more appropriate and government policy should allow much more flexibility in this.

“Students who need to continue their learning in maths and English post-16 should not be forced into repeated resits which can lead them to feel disillusioned and disengaged.

“They should be able to take the qualification which they and their school or college deem most appropriate, be that a GCSE, or a functional skills or other relevant qualification – enabling them to move forward with their education, training or employment.”

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