Just under six million GCSEs were sat by students in the UK this year – and just over a fifth of teenagers achieved 7/A or above compared to more than a quarter in 2022.
The figures published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) cover a total of over six million GCSE and Level 1 and 2 Vocational and Technical qualification results being awarded to students across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Girls continue to outperform boys, with 24.9% of female entries achieving 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.
The most popular subject choices are unchanged from 2021 and 2022 – Double Science, Maths, English, English Literature, History, Geography, Religious Studies, Art and Design, Biology, and Chemistry. There is continued growth in students taking Biology, Physics, Chemistry and Double Award Science.
The following subjects have grown in popularity: Business Studies (up 14.8%), Spanish (up 11.3%) and Computing (up 11.6%).
Performing/Expressive Arts and Music GCSEs have seen the biggest decrease (down by 16.6.% and 12.5%).
Spanish is now the most popular modern foreign language (MFL), overtaking French, after a 11.3% increase in entries. French is now the second most popular MFL subject, and German remains third most popular MFL. In other languages, Chinese, Polish and Arabic are the top three most popular GCSEs.
In England, London and the South East were the top performing regions, with 28.4% and 24.4% of entries graded 7/A and above respectively. The North East, North West, and Yorkshire and Humber had the lowest number of top grades with around 18% in each area. This mirrors the trend for this year's A Level results.
As widely anticipated (the head of Ofqual had warned schools to prepare for lower grades than last year), grades are starting to return to pre-pandemic levels in UK and worldwide; there has been a small drop from the unusually high grades of 2020-22 when coursework and final exams were disrupted by Covid-19.
We saw a similar trend with the release of the IB results in June and A Level results last week. Exam regulators want to get grades back to 2019 levels; this will not be in one jump (as the GCSE results reveal) but it will take place over two years or more.
Back in April, the Department for Education said:
"As we return to exams, we want to get back to the pre-pandemic standard, but in the interests of fairness, Ofqual (who take the decisions on grading) won’t do so in one jump.
"Instead, 2022 will be a transition year to reflect that we are in a pandemic recovery period and students’ education has been disrupted. In 2022 the aim, therefore, will be to move grading to a point close to midway between 2021 and pre-pandemic profiles."
The discussion around the grade inflation of the past two years – and the small drop in average scores this year – should not detract from the incredible efforts of students to learn and teachers to teach in incredibly challenging times. Students have worked hard during an extremely difficult time – and today is a day to celebrate their achievements.
The UK's Department for Education and exam regulator Ofqual has announced a return to pre-pandemic grading this year, but with “some protection against any impact of Covid disruption”.
Why? Well, although the 2023 cohort of GCSE students in the UK did not experience national school and college closures during their two-year courses of study, they still experienced some disruption to their studies due to Covid-19 restrictions.
While schools and colleges taught the full content of qualifications to students who took exams in the spring of 2023, there was some support available for students taking exams this year.
Students were not provided with advance information on the focus of exams next summer (in 2022, students were given advance information topics and exam aids such as formulae). However, they were given extra support in GCSE maths, physics and combined science in the form of formulae and equation sheets.
There was also a return to all the usual non-exam assessment activities such as practical science activities, geography fieldwork, spoken language assessments, and formal speaking tests.
For students who have received their GCSE and IGCSE results this summer, they are the pathway to future studies post-16 and beyond. Many universities and colleges look at GCSE and IGCSE results as an indicator of previous academic achievement, together with predicted grades as A Level or IBDP.
The grading structure for GCSE exams is from 9 (the highest) to 1, whilst for IGCSE, it is from A* (the equivalent of a Grade 8) to G. A Grade 4 or C is considered a Pass.
Read more: How are I/GCSEs graded?