This year's exams signify a return to normality for 16 year-olds across the country as it is the first time post-Covid that full national exams have taken place. In the past two years, exams were replaced with teacher assessed grades based on a student's performance in in-class tests, mock exams, and coursework.
More than 5.7 million GCSEs were sat by students in the UK this year – and just over a quarter of teenagers achieved 7/A or above.
Overall grades are higher than 2019, when exams were last sat: 7/A has increased by 5.5% and 4/C by 5.9%. As expected, grades are lower than 2021, when there was a different method of assessment: 7/A decreased by 2.6% and 4/C by 3.9%.
Kath Thomas, Interim Chief Executive Officer of JCQ said:
“We’re pleased that exams are back, as they’re the fairest way to assess students and give everyone the chance to show what they know. This is the first time in three years that results have been based on formal exams and coursework, so it’s a welcome step back towards normality.
"These results will help them progress to the next stage of their education and make some important decisions about their future. As planned – and as with last week’s A Level results, these results are higher than the last set of summer exams in 2019, but lower than last year’s teacher-assessed grades. This reflects the special arrangements that were put in place to support students, schools and colleges through another challenging year due to Covid.”
Girls continue to outperform boys, with 30% of female entries achieving 7/A, compared with 22.6% of male entries. 76.7% of female entries achieved 4/C, compared with 69.8% of male entries, and 98.8% of female entries achieved 1/G compared with 98.0% of male entries.
The most popular subject choices are unchanged from 2021 – Double Science, Maths, English, English Literature and History. There is continued growth in students taking Biology, Physics, Chemistry and Double Award Science.
The following subjects have grown in popularity: Business Studies (+4.6%), Geography (+2.7%) and Biology (+1.3%).
French remains the most popular modern foreign language (MFL), despite a 1.9% decrease in entries. Spanish remains the second most popular MFL subject, although it has seen a decrease in entries (1.7%) for the first time since 2018. German remains third most popular MFL, despite a decrease of 5.1% in entries.
In England, London and the South East were the top performing regions, with 32.6% and 29.2% entires graded 7/A and above respectively. The North East, the Midlands and Yorkshire and Humber had the lowest number of top grades with around 22% in each area. This mirrors the trend for this year's A Level results.
What do this year’s grades tell us?
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 and 2021 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.
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.