GCSE results: proportion of entries with highest grades soars

Proportion awarded grades 7, 8 and 9 rises from 21.9% last year to 27.6% as exams regulator accepts school assessments

  • GCSE results: news and reaction – live blog

First published on Thu 20 Aug 2020 04.33 EDT

The proportion of the highest GCSE grades awarded in England this year has jumped by 26%, in the wake of the government’s examinations U-turn, according to figures released by the regulator Ofqual.

Following the government’s decision to scrap calculated grades and replace them with school-assessed grades in most cases, the proportion awarded of grades 7, 8 and 9 – equivalent to the old A and A* grades – awarded to Year 11 pupils rose from 21.9% last year to 27.6% this year.

The proportion of entries awarded the highest grade, 9, also rose from 4.7% last year to 6.6% this year, according to Ofqual. In all cases the proportion of higher grades awarded would have set new records had they been sat under exam conditions.

Pupils achieving a 4 or above, equivalent to a C or above under the previous measure, also rose substantially from 70% to 79% in England.

In the key subjects, the proportion of 16-year-olds awarded 7 and above in English rose by six percentage points to 23%. The proportion gaining 4 or above rose from 70% to 80% this year.

How ministers defended the A-level results system

Gavin Williamson, 12 August, to ITV

“[I have] every confidence that the system we have put in place is a robust system, a system that’s fair”

Gavin Williamson, 12 August, to the BBC

“The system, for the overwhelming majority of young people, is going to deliver credible, strong results. It’s a robust system, it’s a fair system, it’s making sure that young people get the grades that they’ve worked so hard towards”

Nick Gibb, 12 August, to Sky News

“Most young people … will get the grade that the teacher sent in to the exam board that they thought they would get.”

Gavin Williamson, 13 August, to Sky News

Q) “Can you give a cast-iron guarantee that you will not be forced into the embarrassing U-turn that John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon were in Scotland?”

A) “Absolutely”

Boris Johnson, 13 August, to reporters in Northern Ireland

“Let’s be in no doubt about it, the exam results that we’ve got today are robust. They’re good, they’re dependable for employers. It’s very important that for years to come people should be able to look at these grades and think these are robust, these are dependable”

Gavin Williamson, 15 August, interview to the Times

“This is it… No U-turn, no change… [In Scotland] you’ve got a system where there aren’t any controls, you’ve got rampant grade inflation. There’s been no checks and balances in that system; it degrades every single grade as a result and in-baked unfairness” 

In maths, the other compulsory GCSE subject, the proportion gaining 7 and above rose from 20% to 24%, and those gaining 4 and above rose from 71.5% to just over 77%.

In most cases the results given to pupils on Thursday were derived from assessments made by their teachers and schools, known as centre-assessed grades. But in some cases pupils were awarded a higher grade if it had been given by the algorithm previously used by Ofqual.

Ofqual also released the new, centre-assessed A-level grades being awarded to sixth-formers in England. The proportion of top marks, A* and A, increased 13 percentage points to 38%, while the proportion gaining grade C and above rose to 87.5% from 75.5%.

Nw figures released by Ofqual also showed that as many as one in four students would have missed out on a C grade or better if the algorithm had been retained in place of A-levels assigned by schools. Students taking English, and design and technology, were downgraded more frequently than other candidates.

In English, one in five students would have missed out on a C grade or better, based on the algorithm. One in six students taking history and one in 16 taking maths were marked down below a C using Ofqual’s model.

In Wales the exam regulator Qualifications Wales said its revised GCSE results were “substantially higher” than in recent years. Nearly 26% gained A* or A grades, compared to 18% in 2019. And 74.5% of students received A*-C grades, compared with 62.8% last year.

Qualifications Wales also revealed higher A-level results, following the decision by the Welsh government to also use school-level assessments.

“Our best estimate at this stage of revised 2020 A-level results in Wales at cumulative A* to A is 41.3%, compared to 29.9% when results were released on August 13, and 27% in 2019,” a spokesperson for Qualification Wales said.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This generation of young people has suffered a degree of uncertainty and disruption that is without precedent. They lost out on the normal rites of passage of leaving school, and on the chance to show what they could do in a set of exams.

“And they must have been watching the news anxiously following last week’s A-level results to see if they were going to lose out again because a computer algorithm might downgrade them – before the government and Ofqual performed a U-turn and reverted to centre-assessed grades.

“In the circumstances, this was the only viable option.”

Hundreds of thousands of students who were to get their results for BTec vocational qualifications – at both level two and level three – did not receive them, after the exam board Pearson made a late decision to overhaul BTec grades in favour of school assessments.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said: “It is appalling that BTec students are not also receiving their grades after another last-minute U-turn. The very least that students deserve is to be given their results.

“This fiasco could have been completely avoided if the government had taken action much earlier. They have failed our young people, their families and teachers.”

Gavin Williamson, who has been under immense pressure to resign after last week’s fiasco involving A-level grades, said: “Young people getting their results today can feel incredibly proud of all they’ve achieved in the face of immense challenge and uncertainty.”

Williamson announced in March that GCSE and A-level exams would be replaced by a statistical model and school assessments developed by Ofqual. But that was ditched on Monday.

“I also want to pay a special tribute to teachers and school leaders this year who have shown dedication, resilience and ingenuity to support their students to get to this moment,” Williamson said.

Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Teachers know their students better than any model or algorithm and it will be a relief to many that the grades they receive are now a fairer reflection of their achievements.”

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