GCSE Results 2023: Top 5 Takeaways

This year’s GCSE results have, as always, revealed intriguing insights, trends and shifts. From gender dynamics to subject preferences and the ever-present private vs. state school comparison, we’ve put together our top 5 takeaways to shed light on the latest GCSE landscape.
GCSE Results 2023: Top 5 Takeaways
By Carli Allan
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After much anticipation and plenty of speculation with regards to a return to stricter pre-pandemic grading boundaries and probable lower grades all round, students around the world received their GCSE results today. 

But despite the concerns over the comparison between this year and last – and the ‘doom and gloom’ of results being brought back in line after record grades were achieved in 2020 and 2021 – this year has also shown plenty of positives, particularly the resilience and dedication of students and teachers in what is still a challenging educational landscape. 

Whether your child has got their GCSE results today or you are preparing them to start their GCSE journey, we’ve put together our top 5 2023 GCSE result takeaways as food for thought.  

Top grades and pass rates drop, but remain above 2019 levels

There’s no getting away from comparing GCSE outcomes this year to those of 2019 (the last year in which the same grading system was applied) and then also to last year, 2022, when grading boundaries were adjusted to reflect the challenges of learning during the pandemic. 

Grade boundaries dictate the minimum mark a student needs to achieve a particular grade and they vary year on year depending on how well a particular module performed. This prevents students from being penalised with poor grades if an exam was particularly challenging but also means that if many students performed well in an exam, they’ll need higher marks to achieve the top grade. Exam boards dictate boundaries for each subject once all papers have been marked. 

The number of top grades (7/A and above) has fallen 17% this year; 22.4% of grades were 7 and above, which is edging closer to the pre Covid-19 levels of 21.8%.

The number of top grade 9s has seen the biggest drop; it is down 26% from 6.8% last year to 5% this year. There was a bigger drop in the top grades for English (20% less than last year) compared to maths (12.1% less than 2022).

The proportion of entries getting at least a 4/C grade, which is considered a "standard pass", has fallen from 73.2% in 2022 to 68.2% this year; it still remains higher than 67.3% in 2019. 

The regional gap is widening 

Once again, there are notable regional variations in GCSE results across the UK. The gap between London, which achieved the highest proportion (28.4%) of grades at 7/A and the North East, which has the lowest proportion of GCSE grades at 7/A (17.6%), has widened. This 10.8% difference highlights a widening gap between the North and South.

There are also notable differences between England and the rest of the UK – and there has been a higher fall in the proportion of top grades in England compared to other UK nations.

In England, which has brought grading more back in line with 2019 levels, the number of top grades (7/A and above) fell by 4.4%. In Wales, grades fell 3.4% and in Northern Ireland there was 2.5% drop; both regions decided to wait and return to pre-pandemic grading levels next year.

Private vs state sector

UK fee-paying independent schools have historically had a reputation for academic excellence, and the gap in performance between state and private school students has grown since 2019. However, this year the drop in top GCSE grades was higher in the private sector – and the proportion of top grades fell below 2019 levels.

Students in independent schools achieving a grade 7/A and above was 46.6% this year, which is slightly below 47% in 2019 and significantly less than 53% in 2022. By comparison, the top grades fell from 23.3% in 2022 to 19.1% this year in state secondary comprehensive schools. 

While the gap between state and independent schools has narrowed, there is still a considerable difference in student performance.

Business, Spanish and Computing are on the rise

Looking at subject-specific results, it’s clear that student interests are evolving and that subject choices are changing to reflect the opinion that those with a vocational angle are going to prove really useful. 

The top ten highest entry subjects hasn’t changed in rank order – with subjects including Science, Mathematics, English and Geography still forming the core. History saw the biggest increase in the largest subjects, jumping up 6.5% to 311,146 entries; history is cited more and more as an excellent subject for keeping your options open when choosing a degree, and is prized by most leading universities for being designed to develop knowledge and critical thinking skills.

Business Studies takes centre stage this year with a huge 14.8% surge in entries, highlighting a growing fascination for entrepreneurial insights.  Also on the rise, Spanish entries grew by 11.3%, revealing an understanding of the importance of global communication – with Spanish being the fourth most spoken language in the world.  

Computing entries also increased by 11.6% among subjects with fewer than 100,000 participants which highlights the increasing importance of digital literacy in today’s world. 

Art and design subjects saw the biggest drop in entries, while some smaller subjects (with under 100,000 entries) saw a rise in popularity, these include construction and statistics.

Girls did better than boys – but the gap is narrowing

This year’s GCSE results showed a recurring trend as female students once again outshone their male peers. But, after increasing during the Covid-19 years, the gap in the top grades between girls and boys has narrowed.

Nearly two-thirds of those with straight 9s were girls; about 500 students got 9s in all 10 of the subjects they sat, while 125 got 11 or more grade 9s.

24.9% of female entries achieved 7/A, compared with 19.1% of male entries. 71.7% of female entries achieved 4/C, compared with 64.9% of male entries, and the pass rate was 98.4% for girls compared with 97.5% of male entries.

But, while female students achieved higher overall outcomes compared with male students, the disparity between the two genders has shown signs of narrowing across various key grades. This is because boys are doing better than girls in subjects such as maths (22.1% of boys got a grade 7-9 compared to 20.2% of girls).

Notably, the gap in results between females and males has decreased by 0.7% at the 7 (A) grade level, showing an improvement from statistics recorded in 2019. Similarly, at the 4 (C) grade level the difference has fallen by 2% compared to the data from 2019, suggesting a significant leveling of the playing field. Even at the 1 (G) level, where the difference is less pronounced, there is a small reduction of 0.1% in the gap, indicating an overall positive shift towards more equal academic outcomes for females and males.   

A promising future

In a world still dealing with uncertainty, this year’s GCSE results are a testament to the dedication of students who have navigated through unprecedented times. With many subjects gaining traction and an increased number of GCSE entries, it is evident that the pursuit of knowledge remains strong as students aim for bright futures. 

Commenting on this year’s results, Margaret Farragher, Chief Executive of the Joint Council for Qualifications said: 

“This year’s results recognise the fantastic achievements of students across the country. They have worked incredibly hard throughout the pandemic period to achieve these well- earned grades. The 2023 results show that students are well equipped to continue their educational journey.”


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