LIVE: GCSE Results Day 2021, UK

Nearly a third of UK students have received top grades in this year's GCSE results, despite a second year of disruption where results were awarded by teacher assessment rather than national exams.
LIVE: GCSE Results Day 2021, UK
By Carli Allan
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GCSE students in the UK are celebrating a record number of top grades following a second year without exams taking place due to Covid-19. More than 500,000 UK students received their I/GCSEs today – and top grades have reached an all-time high with nearly a third of teenagers achieving 7/A or above. 

  • The proportion of students getting the top grades of 7/A and above is 28.9%, an increase of 2.6% on last year

  • 7.4% of students achieved the highest grade of 9 in this year's results, compared with 6.3% in 2020 and 4.5% in 2019

  • A total of 3,606 students in England received straight 9s this summer, compared with 2,645 in 2020 and 837 in 2019

  • 77.1% of students achieved a grade 4/C or higher, which is up 0.8% from 2020

  • Pass rate (1/G) dropped slightly by 0.6% from 2020

Results published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) for England show a significant increase in the number of students achieving the top grades of 7/A and above – nearly a third (28.9%) compared to only a fifth (20.8%) in 2019, when exams were last held.


Ofqual, 2021

Girls have outperformed boys, with the number of female students achieving 7/A rising by 3.2% compared to 2.2% for male students. Of the total number of students achieving straight 9s this summer (3,606), 64% were girls.

Spanish remains the most popular modern foreign language at GCSE, with a 4.7% rise in the number of students taking the subject.

Geography saw the second highest increase in entry levels (up 4.2%) – and also had the highest increase in entries at A Level this year.

The highest increase in grade 7/A was seen in PE (up 7.1%), followed by economics (6.3%) and computing and social science subjects (both 5.9%). The smallest increase at grade 7/A is for art and design (up just 0.6%) and ‘other’ sciences (0.9%). 

The number of students achieving 7/A and above has risen by 7.1% at UK independent schools, and 4.2% at selective state schools. At UK independent schools, the number of students awarded 7/A and above has increased from 46.6% in 2019 (when exams are last sat) to 61.2% this year; the percentage of grade 4 and above has increased from 89.9% in 2019 to 95.5% this year.

In England, London and the South East were the top performing regions, with 34.5% and of entries being 31.9 % graded 7/A and above. The North East had the lowest number of top grades with 24.5%. This mirrors the trend for this year's A Level results.


Ofqual 2021

I/GCSE exams were cancelled again this summer in the UK, with Covid-19 continuing to have an impact on learning. The UK Government’s Department of Education and its exams regulator, OFQUAL confirmed earlier this year that grades would be based on teachers’ assessments, with last year’s controversial algorithm ditched.



Education Secretary Gavin Williamson congratulated "hard-working" students ahead of the results being released to 16-year-olds across the country – and highlighted the range of sixth form and college options now available to students.

He added:

"There have never been so many great options available for young people, whether that’s going on to study A Levels, our pioneering T Levels, starting an apprenticeship or a traineeship. Whatever option young people choose, they can do so with the confidence it will give them the skills and knowledge to get on in life."

How were GCSEs graded this year?

This year's GCSE exams were cancelled for the second year in a row due to Covid-19 restrictions. Similar to this year's A Levels, GCSE grades are based on teacher assessments. Students were assessed only on what they had been taught and were assessed on multiple pieces of work, giving them their best possible chance to show what they can do.

Grades were subject to checks by schools with further checks of samples by exam boards – and one in five UK school had a sample of their grades checked by exam boards.

Students receiving GCSE results in England get numerical grades for all their subjects as all courses have now moved over to the new grading system. 

Traditional A*-G grades have been scrapped and replaced with a 9-1 system amid reforms, with 9 the highest result and a 4 broadly equivalent to a C grade, while a 7 is broadly equivalent to an A.

The grading structure for some IGCSE exams still remains A* (the equivalent of a Grade 8) to G, where C is considered a Pass.

Explaining the award process, Cath Jadhav, Director of Standards and Comparability, said “In summer 2021, teachers will judge the standard that a student is working at, based on a range of evidence produced by that student over their course of study, and covering only the content they have been taught.

“Teachers will make the initial judgements and they will then be subject to internal quality assurance within the school/college, and grades will be signed off by the head of department and head of centre – usually the headteacher or principal – before they are submitted to exam boards.

“In simple terms, a GCSE student who is performing consistently at a grade 6 standard, should be awarded a grade 6. It should be no harder or easier to achieve a particular grade than it is in a normal year when examinations take place.”

Ms Jadhav added: “We are asking teachers to take an evidence-based approach, so that students, their parents and carers, and all those who use the grades awarded this summer can see how their final grade has been arrived at and know that they have been determined objectively.”

Schools and colleges have been asked to judge the standard of students’ work against the standards set in previous years, to try to keep grades consistent year on year. However, with numerous assertions about grade inflation irrespective of Exam Board – with this year’s International Baccalaureate results and latterly, this week’s A Level results, showing clear evidence of the highest levels of awards ever – it can be reasonably expected that the same will be true for I/GCSE.

How much this matters, given that I/GCSE results are largely used internally for progression to post-16 education is a moot point. Many believe that this year’s students deserve recognition for the incredibly difficult two years that have passed with the pandemic causing wide disruption in terms of consistency of education.

Today’s results will therefore be a celebration of the ability of 15 and 16 year olds to cope with an unprecedented situation and they should and will be congratulated for their achievement.

Why are GCSE grades important?

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.

This is the second year that students can move on to study T Levels, with seven new subject choices available from September, including Healthcare, Science and Onsite Construction.

Students typically need to obtain at least a Grade 4 or 5 (formerly a grade C) in English and maths, as colleges and Sixth Forms look for these grades as a basic requirement to continue their studies.

Appeals and resits

Students can appeal their I/GCSE grades, and this year there is no charge for appeals. However, results can go down as well as up.

Ofqual brought results day forward to provide more time for student appeals – particularly for those students who are waiting on A Level results as part of their university application.

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) guidance says:

“Requests for appeals on the grounds of academic judgement (unreasonableness) will only be considered by awarding organisations and not by centres.

"In these cases, an initial centre review must still be completed to ensure that the centre has not made any procedural or administrative errors. The centre should not review its academic judgements during the centre review stage."

The deadline for GCSE appeals is September 3, 2021.

Alternatively, students can retake I/GCSE exams in November or next year; exam dates are yet to be announced and the deadline for entry is likely to be late September/early October. Exam regulator Ofqual has said there will be a full series of autumn exams.

Read more: GCSE, A Level Results Day 2021: Need to Know

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