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Top GCSE Grades Have Risen For A Second Year Despite Pandemic Exam Disruption

3 min read

The number of GCSE students getting the top grades has risen across the country. It is the second year that teacher assessed marks have been used in place of exams as a result of pandemic disruption.

Students getting a grade 7 (equivalent to an A) or higher increased by 2.7% compared to last year, from 26.2% in 2020 to 28.9% in 2021.

When set against the results from the last time pupils took exams in 2019, Wales and Northern Ireland have seen bumper rises of almost 10% of students getting the very best marks, with an eight % rise in England.

In Wales 28.7% got the top grades compared to 18.4% in 2019, and in Northern Ireland 39.9% received 7 or above compared to 30.5% in 2019.

Girls also continued their usual trend of out performing boys, particularly in the top grades for English Language and English Literature. 

Spanish and geography saw the greatest increase in pupils taking the subjects, as well as the single sciences. 

Dr Philip Wright, Director General of the Joint Council for Qualifications said: “The impact of Covid has undoubtedly provided a difficult chapter in their education journey and [pupils] resilience is to be applauded.

“Teachers used their professional judgement and submitted the grades and evidence in good time for us to check and award grades today. Their efforts will allow students to swiftly progress onto the next stages of their education or training.”

The greatest increase in those getting a grade 7 or above was seen in London where the rate has increased by 3.1 percentage points.

Pupils on free school meals (FSM) have done less well than their peers who are not on free meals, across grades 7 and 4, on average by 0.1 of a grade.

Gypsy or Roma students’ outcomes have also declined on average, and at grades 7 and 4 compared to those of white students in both 2019 and 2020.

Normal GCSE exams were scrapped in favour of teacher assessed grades in January of this year as schools shut for another period of national lockdown.

There was also a slight increase for those achieving grades 4, which is a C grade, by 0.8 percentage points in 2021 from 2020.

Ofqual said: “There has been an increase in outcomes at the top grades and the stability at lower grades. This may be because the most academically able students were even more able to study independently.

“There are some small changes in the gaps between the average results of some groups of students, which are observed in normal years, which may reflect the impact of the pandemic on learning. It’s likely, however, that these changes would have been greater had we had not given teachers the flexibility to assess students only on the content they had taught.”

GCSE grades in England are ranked 1 to 9, with 1 the equivalent of a G and 4 the equivalent of a C. Anything graded 7 and above is the equivalent of grade between an A* and A mark. In Wales and Northern Ireland they use grades A* to G. 

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