GCSE results day 2023: higher fall in proportion of top grades in England than in other UK nations – as it happened | GCSEs

Higher fall in proportion of top grades in England than in other UK nations

Michael Goodier

Michael Goodier

The figures show the gap between the nations for top grades has increased compared with last year, as England brought their grades back in more in line with 2019 levels, but Northern Ireland and Wales took a different approach to moderating grades.

Looking at students of all ages, England saw the proportion of grades achieving seven and above fall by 4.4 percentage points compared with last year: an increase of just 0.9 points compared to pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, in Wales grades fell 3.4 points – but were up 3.3 compared with 2019. Northern Ireland saw a 2.5 point fall in top grades, leaving them four points higher than the pandemic.

Key events


That is it from me today. Thank you for tuning in to the GCSE liveblog and to everyone who sent in contributions.

Well done to all students who opened results today. I hope you have a well-earned break and treat yourself to a nice lunch – maybe you could join Lucas and his family for a McDonald’s!

Commenting on today’s results, the CEO of Teach First, Russell Hobby, said:

Congratulations to every young person on their results today. They are a tribute to their hard work and resilience.

When grades drop overall, it’s young people growing up in poverty who are most likely to miss out.

The pandemic already dealt them a harsh hand and wiped out a decade of progress on tackling the attainment gap between them and their peers from wealthier homes.

But we know that, with the right support, young people achieve great things against the odds, so after today we must ensure that the classes of Covid get the investment they deserve …

To give all pupils a fair chance of fulfilling their potential, we need to get great teachers where they’re really needed. That’s why Teach First offers people who join our Training Programme financial support to relocate or commute to schools in low-income areas where they can have the greatest impact.

Sally Weale

Sally Weale

There is real concern today about the yawning attainment gap between GCSE results the north and south of England.

As reported earlier, pupils in the north-east had the lowest rates of top grades – despite registering a positive increase on 2019 results. The gap between the north-east and London, however, went up from 9.3% in 2019 to 10.8% in 2023.

Chris Zarraga, director of Schools North East, which represents more 1000 schools in the region, said:

GCSE results this year highlight the hard work and dedication of school staff in delivering ‘catch-up’ support to students. This support is vital in improving the opportunities for young people in our region.

However, it is clear that significant challenges remain, with education recovery policies too London-centric. If policy continues to be ‘one-size-fits-all’, we risk a continuing widening of the gap between the north-east and London. Recognition of the perennial contextual challenges, and the impact of the pandemic on more than just those students that had exams cancelled, is long overdue.

Geography lovers will be pleased as GCSE results published this morning demonstrate the subject’s enduring relevance, according to the Royal Geographical Society.

293,319 students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland sat GCSE geography examinations this year (compared with 289,351 in 2022) and it retains its place as the GCSE subject with the sixth highest number of entries.

The director of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), Prof Joe Smith, said:

Congratulations to all the students receiving their GCSE geography results today. We are delighted to see that geography’s relevance for today’s changing world continues to be recognised by so many students, as well as their teachers, parents and carers.

I encourage students to continue their geographical studies at A-level to benefit from the strong, adaptable foundation that geography brings to your life, but an interest in geography doesn’t need to be limited to school studies. Geographical themes are present all around us in everything, from tackling inequality, to improving biodiversity, sports, travel and even entrepreneurship.

The broad spectrum of knowledge and tools that students cover in geography allows them to develop their understanding of the world and pursue their interests without limiting their options. With the foundation of a geography GCSE, the door is now open to a wide range of further study and careers, with the prospect for secure and rewarding work.”

Thomas Yiannikkou, a student at the Archer academy in East Finchley, got 10 grade 9s in his GCSEs today.

His mum, Ruth Henrywood, said she is incredibly proud:

We’re all very happy, and so grateful for the school’s support.

Image of Thomas Yiannikkou smiling holding up his GCSE results
Thomas Yiannikkou, who just got 10 grade 9s at the Archer academy in East Finchley. Photograph: Supplied

The British Academy – the UK’s national body for the humanities and social sciences – welcomes the growing popularity of economics, history and some modern languages at GCSE level but calls for more work to arrest the decline in other humanities and social sciences.

Hetan Shah, chief executive of the British Academy, said:

I’d like to offer my congratulations to all students receiving their GCSEs – it is an important milestone in their education.

Many of the challenges we collectively face require an understanding of people, societies and culture, and – as the national academy for humanities and social sciences – we see how connecting knowledge across disciplines is vital to address them.

Some level of change in subject take-up is of course inevitable, and our analysis shows the detail of this, but we are of the view that more work is needed to reverse the overall long-term decline in some modern language learning and indeed to encourage GCSE students to take a broad balance of arts and sciences as they progress in their studies.

We will continue to monitor the health of all Shape subjects at system-wide and discipline-specific levels via our Shape [social sciences, humanities and the arts for people and the economy] observatory. Now, more than ever, the UK needs versatile graduates with a broad and balanced portfolio of skills and expertise.

Awa Sy joined George Salter academy in west Bromwich 10 months ago. She was new to the UK and spoke no English, but sat her GCSEs with the rest of her peers and excelled.

Today she achieved a distinction*, one grade 9, three grade 6s, two grade 5s and two grade 4s.

Awa’s family comes from west Africa, and she had spent some time in Italy before arriving in the UK.

Awa Sy smiling with her GCSE results in her hand
Awa Sy at George Salter academy after getting her GCSE results.

Adrian Price, principal of GSA, said:

Awa’s dedication, humour and smiles have brightened our days from day one, and we are so proud of her sensational results.

Here is some analysis from the Sutton Trust, a charity which campaigns to improve social mobility through education.


As expected, grades at GCSE have fallen this year. However, across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, passing grades are still up on 2019, with those at 4/C or above up 0.9 percentage points (68.2% compared to 67.3%), and the highest grades (7/A and above), up 1.2pp from 20.8% to 22%.

England has seen bigger falls in grades compared to the other nations, as planned. While in England, the top grades are 0.9 percentage points above 2019 levels, in Wales they are still 3.3 percentage points above 2019, and in Northern Ireland 4 percentage points

School type:

The number of grade 7s or above at independent schools in England has decreased by 6.5 percentage points compared to 2022, compared to smaller falls of 4.1pp at comprehensives and 4.5pp at academies. Grades fell most at grammar schools, by 7.2pp compared to last year.

This means the state/independent gap has narrowed somewhat this year.


London again has been moving ahead of the rest of England. For top grades (7 and over), the largest differences compared to 2019 have been in London (+2.7 percentage points), East of England (+1.4pp) and the north-east (+1.2pp), with the south-east also seeing a rise (+0.9pp).

Looking at those achieving a pass (grades 4/C and up), similarly there have been increases in several regions compared to 2019, including London (+2.0pp), East of England (+1.5pp) and the north-east (1.5pp). Results stayed the same in the east Midlands, and fell (-0.1pp) in the north-west.

National reference test:

The National Reference Test provides a benchmark for achievement in English and maths that is consistent over years and not subject to policy decisions on grade boundaries. Last year’s data showed a drop in performance in both subjects compared to pre-pandemic levels, but more pronounced in maths.

This year’s data shows trends in English and maths moving in opposite directions. English grades at both 7 and above and 4 and above have improved since 2022, and are now closer to pre-pandemic levels (2020). However maths grades have fallen further since 2022, at both grade 4 and grade 7.

Carmen Aguilar García

Given that English, maths and double science are compulsory, it is no surprise that they are the most popular subjects.

There has been little change in the number of entries this year compared to last in some of the most popular subjects like geography (which increased by 1.5%). However, others have seen big jumps, with statistics entries growing by 35%.

Other subjects chosen by 16-year-olds in England seeing double-digit growth compared with last year were social sciences, business studies, Spanish and computing.

At the other end of the table, creative subjects such as performing and expressive arts, music, drama, and art and design have seen the biggest drops, with German entries also falling.

Graph showing statistics and social sciences are among the subjects with the highest percentage growth compared with last year

Ten-year-old Lucas Tsang has been dancing around with excitement since he found out that he had achieved a grade 9 in his maths GCSE.

Lucas said:

I can’t believe it! I’m really happy that my efforts have led to this result. It was a lot of hard work, but I enjoyed every moment of it.

In the future, I want to continue exploring advanced mathematics and maybe even contribute to solving some real-world problems using maths.

 Lucas Tsang holding his certificate
Ten-year-old Lucas Tsang from Berkshire achieved a grade 9 in his maths GCSE.

His mother, Karen Lam, said Lucas is over the moon with his result and has “always demonstrated an exceptional aptitude for mathematics”.

She added:

Last year, inspired by a news story about a young boy who passed his GCSE Maths early, Lucas decided to take on this challenge as well. He was determined to get the highest possible grade.

As the exam approached, he voluntarily swapped his playtime for tuition, demonstrating his commitment to achieving the best grade. I believe it is essential to emphasise that intelligence alone is not sufficient for success; the right attitude and a strong work ethic are equally vital.

As part of the family’s celebration, his parents are treating him to lunch at McDonald’s – “his favourite treat”, Lam said.

Carmen Aguilar García

As a Spaniard, I am delighted to report that the number of students taking Spanish in the GCSE exams is at its highest level since at least 2016. Close to 117,000 16-year-olds in England entered for Spanish, a 12% increase compared with last year and the biggest year-on-year increase.

Although French continues to be the most popular language, with almost 123,000 entries, Spanish has been rising fast and it is closing the gap. On the other hand, German continues its decline with only about 32,700 exams this year, a decrease of 3.8%.

More students took other modern languages (which includes Chinese, Polish and Italian) last year, with a rise of 2.5% in the number of entries compared with 2022.

Spanish is the fastest growing language at GCSE, closing the gap with French

Responding to today’s GCSE results, Sir Peter Lampl, Founder and chairperson of the Sutton Trust and chairperson of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

Considering the significant disruption these youngsters have faced as a result of the pandemic, those receiving their GCSE results today should be rightly proud of their achievements.

As we move back to pre-pandemic grading standards, today’s data continues to show regional disparities in attainment. Despite a noticeable improvement in the north-east compared to 2019, it is still the region with the lowest proportion of top grades and London continues to outperform the rest of the country.

While it is encouraging that the gap between state and independent schools has narrowed, a considerable difference in attainment remains.

Analysis to follow …

Most state schools in England, including academies, comprehensives, secondary moderns and grammar schools, outperformed their pre-pandemic results in top grades and in pass rates in most cases, while independent schools and free schools saw proportionally fewer top grades than in 2019.

Grammar schools saw 59% of their entries achieve grade 7 or above, while 47% of entries from private schools gained the same. Meanwhile, 21% of entries from academies got one of the top grades, as did 19% of entries from comprehensives and middle schools.

During the pandemic, independent schools saw a disproportionate boost in the proportion of exam entries achieving the top grades, which appears to have been nullified by this years’ results. However, most independent schools take a mixture of GCSE and other equivalent qualifications, such as iGCSE, that are not included in Ofqual’s data, making comparisons difficult.

Graph showing students attending independent schools in England achieved top grades at twice the rate of those attending state schools

This is from the Guardian’s eduction editor, Richard Adams, and Michael Goodier

Tilly (L) and Grace (R) from St Gabriels school in Newbury look pleased as they opened their GCSE results.

Two girls smiling as they look at their results
Photograph: /David Hartley

The Education Endowment Foundation, an independent charity dedicated to improving social mobility through education, says that the fall in GCSE pass rates means more young people will have to retake English and maths for at least the next two years at school or college, as required by the Department for Education.

Becky Francis, the EEF’s chief executive, said:

With the adjustments to grading, the number of pupils achieving a ‘standard pass’ in GCSE English and maths has fallen to 68%, a five percentage point drop from last year. This means there’ll be more young people required to carry on studying for these qualifications in an already stretched post-16 sector. As things stand, many are unlikely to achieve a pass even through resits.

This has serious implications for individual students’ life chances. It is likely that those from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds will be most affected, so the attainment gap must be carefully monitored, and support targeted towards pupils in greatest need of it.

Commenting on the publication of GCSE results in England, Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, the teachers’ union, said:

Students and their teachers have achieved another strong set of results in the most challenging of circumstances and despite the government’s removal of mitigations put in place to account for the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This year’s students should be congratulated on securing these achievements despite years in which their education has suffered Covid disruption and underfunding.

Teachers have continued to pull out all the stops for their pupils, but have been left to do their best without the necessary levels of investment in education recovery and catchup support.

Ministers must take responsibility for their decisions which have contributed to a widening in the attainment gap between the most disadvantaged pupils and their peers.

Teachers will always do whatever it takes to secure the very best for all their pupils. It is time that teachers and pupils had a government that is prepared to do the same.

Steven Morris

Steven Morris

In Wales, GCSE grades are lower overall than last year but higher than before Covid. Almost 22% got A* and A compared with 22% last year.

The Welsh education secretary, Jeremy Miles, said:

We have taken the same approach with GCSEs as A-levels, which is to find the midway point between 2019 and last year. The results are broadly in line with that. As with A-levels, the intention is to be back to a pre-pandemic approach by next year.

Miles spoke during a visit to meet pupils at Ysgol Morgan Llwyd in Wrexham.

He said:

The school here has put in place an awful lot of welfare and tuition support using some of the funding we have provided to schools in Wales to enable them to regain those motivational skills, the confidence, the self-esteem to have someone in school they can talk through their concerns with.

They’re a very resilient group of young people. The kind of skills – the ability to work in different ways, remotely sometimes – they’ve had to develop in the last few years will stand them in good stead for the future.

Richard Adams

Richard Adams

Despite the fall in top GCSE grades overall, there were 1,160 young people in England who will be celebrating a full house of grade 9s in their results this summer.

Ofqual, the exam regulator for England, reported that nearly two-thirds of those with straight 9s were girls. About 500 pupils got 9s in all 10 of the subjects they sat, while 125 got 11 or more grade 9s.

Top grades in English and maths down on last year but remain slightly higher than 2019

As expected, the proportion of 16-year-olds receiving a top grade in maths and English is down in 2022, by 2.9 points and 5.6 points respectively.

However, the figures show that fears of pandemic disruption to learning leading to grades dropping below 2019 levels haven’t fully been realised, with 21.1% of maths students achieving a top grade (up 0.7 points on 2019) and 23.3% of English students also achieving grades 7-9, (up 0.7 points on 2019). Pass rates were also down on last year, but up slightly compared to 2019.

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This improvement in English and maths compared with 2019 is actually a factor of Ofqual’s decision not to apply feedback from its national reference tests, which it usually uses to calibrate annual grade changes. This year’s reference tests showed significantly lower results in English than previous years, while results were also slightly lower in maths.

This is from the Guardian’s Michael Goodier and Carmen Aguilar Garcia

Source link: https://www.theguardian.com/education/live/2023/aug/24/gcse-results-day-2023-students-england-wales-and-northern-ireland-latest-updates

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