GCSE Students Achieve Record Numbers Of Top Grades In England | TOTUM
Ben Hayward August 11th

Record numbers of top GCSE grades have been awarded to pupils in England, with 30% of entires gaining a grade 7 and above (equivalent to A and A*).

This figure compares with 27.5% in 2020 and 22% in 2019, the last year formal exams were held before the pandemic. 

However, there was a marked difference between state grammar schools where 68% of entries achieved grade 7 or above, compared to 20% in secondary modern schools.  


At independent schools, 61% of GCSE entries were awarded top grades, up four percentage points compared to last year and 14% from 2019.

The proportion of pupils in England gaining a 4 or higher, equivalent to C or above, was flat at 79.1% compared to 78.8% last year, while the figures show a slight widening of the gap in attainment between pupils receiving free school meals and those who are not, according to analysis by Ofqual, the exam regulator. 

The 2.5 percentage point rise in top grades means that a record 3,600 students gained 9s in every subject they entered - including 338 pupils who gained the highest grade in 11 or more subjects - up over 200 from 2019.

Girls outperformed boys in maths in England for the first time since GCSEs were reformed by Michael Gove as education secretary, with 26.4% of girls receiving a 7 or higher compared with 25.5% of boys, while In English, the gap was wider with almost a third of female entrants receiving a 7 or above, compared with just under a fifth of boys -  a difference of 13.6 percentage points.


Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said this year’s grades were ‘a fair and accurate reflection’ of pupils’ ability, despite the controversy over grade inflation.

“These pupils deserve huge credit for having weathered the storm of the past 18 months,” he said. “The question of next year’s grades is only one part of the wider issue of how to support pupils in the wake of the pandemic. This must also involve an education recovery plan from the government that is far more ambitious and better funded than ministers have managed so far.”

The schools minister, Nick Gibb, confirmed exams would be returning for GCSE pupils in England next summer, although they would be adjusted to make them fairer and compensate for the disruption to learning.

The minister ruled out keeping teacher assessment as an alternative to exams. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he said: “Exams are the fairest system of assessing young people. We had to cancel exams this year because they wouldn’t be fair.

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“But we will be getting back to exams in 2022 because they are simply the fairest way of judging a young person’s attainment.”

Although pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland do all sit GCSEs, the devolution of education means course content, grading and assessment all differ, making UK-wide comparisons difficult.

In Wales there was a slight dip in the proportion of pupils gaining C or above, to 73.6%, but the rate of entries gaining the top A* and A grades increased from 25.5% to 28.7%, reports the Guardian. 

Jeremy Miles, the Welsh education minister, told students: “You’ve had everything thrown at you over the last 18 months - periods in lockdown, time away from your friends and families, and times where you’ve missed out on many of the social activities you should be enjoying. You’ve shown tremendous resilience to overcome all of these challenges.”

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