GCSE grades awarded to students are down on last year – but remain higher than pre-COVID levels, with grading “lenient to reflect pandemic recovery”.

In 2021, the proportion of GCSE entries that were awarded top grades rose to an all-time high after exams were canceled for the second year in a row and pupils were awarded results based on teacher assessments.

Those collecting their grades today are the first cohort to sit physical exams since COVID and lockdowns forced the temporary overhaul of the education system.

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Students congratulate each other receiving their GCSE results at Roedean School, Sussex

The pattern seen today in figures published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) is similar to A-levels last weekwith grades dropping below last year, but remaining above those from 2019.

The number of students given a 7 (equivalent to an A) is up by 5.5 percentage points on 2019, but down 2.6 percentage points on 2021.

This means the number of entries given the higher grade is down from 28.9% last year to 26.3% this year.

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Students awarded a 4 (equivalent to a C, or a pass grade) are also up by 5.9 percentage points on 2019, and down 3.9 percentage points on 2021.

There were 5.7 million GCSE entries this year – down 0.6% from 2021. Entries by 17-year-olds, and those older, declined by 17%, continuing the pattern seen last year, indicating fewer retakes of English and maths.

Overall outcomes for female students remained higher, with 30% of their entries achieving a 7/A, compared with 22.6% for boys.

The highest entry subjects remained unchanged from 2021, with double award science, mathematics, English, English literature, and history the most popular.

Business studies saw the highest increase in entries, up 4.6% from 2021, with geography increasing 2.7%.

The average number of entries per student was up slightly, at 7.78 compared with 7.69 last year.

How are GCSEs graded across the UK?

The grading of GCSEs differs across England, Northern Ireland and Wales.

In England, the traditional A* to G grades were replaced with a 9 to 1 system, with 9 being the highest mark.

In general, a grade 7-9 is roughly equivalent to AA*, while a grade 4 and above is roughly equivalent to a C and above.

The letters grading system of A*-G is still used in Northern Ireland and Wales.

This year, exams were graded more generously in a bid to provide a safety net for students in the move back towards pre-pandemic arrangements.

The prime minister was among those congratulating students today, in a video posted to Twitter.

“I know how tough things have been over the last few years in education,” he said. I know that COVID hasn’t made things easy. So I wanted to say a massive thank you to everyone who has helped, all your teachers, the parents.

“But above all, I want to pay tribute to you, for your indefatigable hard work and for the results that you have achieved, and you should be really, really proud.”

Lower grades ‘part of the plan’

Speaking before the official figures were released, education minister Will Quince said the lower grades were “very much part of the plan.”

“Over the last couple of years, we have had teachers assess grades, we have gone back for the first time to examinations,” he said.

“We recognize the fact that young people have faced huge disruption of the past couple of years, so there have been adaptations in place and Ofqual have reflected in their marking and grading.”

Labor accused successive Conservative governments of “failing our children”pointing to regional differences in grades under last year’s teacher assessments.

Shadow schools minister Stephen Morgan said: “Young people receiving results have worked incredibly hard, but 12 years of Conservative governments have left a legacy of unequal outcomes that are holding back kids and holding back communities.”

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‘Very much part of the plan’ for GCSE grades to be lower this year

Exams ‘fairest way to assess students’

Kath Thomas, interim chief executive officer of JCQ, congratulated students on their results “after lots of hard work and all the challenges of the pandemic.”

She said: “We’re pleased that exams are back, as they’re the fairest way to assess students and give everyone the chance to show what they know.

Maddie Hallam with her mother receiving her GCSE results at Norwich School, in Norwich, Norfolk.  Picture date: Thursday August 25, 2022.
Maddie Hallam with her mother receiving her GCSE results at Norwich School

Students receiving their GCSE results at Rockwood Academy secondary school in Alum Rock, Birmingham.  Picture date: Thursday August 25, 2022.
Students receiving their GCSE results at Rockwood Academy secondary school in Alum Rock, Birmingham

“This is the first time in three years that results have been based on formal exams and coursework, so it’s a welcome step back towards normality.

“These results will help them progress to the next stage of their education and make some important decisions about their future.”

But exam board Pearson has warned this week thousands of students could miss out on being issued BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council) results today.

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It said that changes this year, made to take into account disruption to teaching and learning during the pandemic, had “added more complexity to the process” and that without full information they are unable to award results.

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