GCSE top grades down from 2021 - but remain higher than pre-pandemic levels

The proportion of GCSE entries awarded top grades surged to an all-time high last year after exams were cancelled due to Covid and results were determined by teachers

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Top grades for GCSEs are down on last year – but remain higher than pre-pandemic levels, as UK students received their results on Thursday.

In 2021, the proportion of GCSE entries awarded top grades surged to an all-time high after exams were cancelled for the second year in a row due to Covid-19 and pupils were given results determined by their teachers.

Similar to the pattern with A-level results, published last week, it had been expected that grades would drop below last year, but remain above those from 2019 as students returned to sitting exams for the first time in three years.

Figures published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) – covering GCSE entries from students predominantly in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – showed top grades of 7/A have fallen from 28.9% in 2021 to 26.3% this year, a drop of 2.6 percentage points.

But this remains higher than the equivalent figure for 2019 of 20.8%.

Finney Harrod receiving his GCSE results at Norwich School
Finney Harrod receiving his GCSE results at Norwich School
Milan (left) and Sasha (right) celebrate after receiving their GCSE results at Notting Hill and Ealing High School in Ealing, London
Milan (left) and Sasha (right) celebrate after receiving their GCSE results at Notting Hill and Ealing High School in Ealing, London

The proportion of entries receiving a 4/C – considered a pass – dropped from 77.1% in 2021 to 73.2% this year, a fall of 3.9 percentage points, but higher than 67.3% in 2019.

Girls continued their lead over boys this year, with 30.0% of entries achieving a 7/A, compared with 22.6% for males.

The gap has closed slightly from last year, when 33.4% of female entries were awarded 7/A or above compared with 24.4% for males, a lead of 9.0 percentage points.

Separate figures, published by exams regulator Ofqual, showed that 2,193 16-year-olds in England got grade 9 in all their subjects – including 13 students who did at least 12 GCSEs.

While traditional A*-G grades are used in Northern Ireland and Wales, in England these have been replaced in with a 9-1 system, where nine is the highest.

Shannon Rostam (right) receiving her GCSE results at Rockwood Academy secondary school in Alum Rock, Birmingham
Shannon Rostam (right) receiving her GCSE results at Rockwood Academy secondary school in Alum Rock, Birmingham
Maddie Hallam with her parents receiving her GCSE results at Norwich School, in Norwich, Norfolk
Maddie Hallam with her parents receiving her GCSE results at Norwich School, in Norwich, Norfolk

A 4 is broadly equivalent to a C grade, and a 7 is broadly equivalent to an A.

Kath Thomas, interim chief executive officer of JCQ, congratulated students getting 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.

“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.

“As planned – and as with last week’s A-level results, these results are higher than the last set of summer exams in 2019, but lower than last year’s teacher-assessed grades.”

Meanwhile, exam board Pearson warned this week that thousands of students could miss out on being issued BTec (Business and Technology Education Council) results on Thursday.

It said that changes this year, made in order 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 students their results.