The proportion of GCSEs awarded top grades has risen for the second year in a row after the biggest exam shake-up for a generation, with more than 700,000 teenagers receiving their results today.
More than one in five (20.8 per cent) UK GCSE entries scored one of the three top grades this year, up from 20.5 per cent last summer, despite headteachers claiming the exams were so hard some pupils refused to sit them.
This year group is the first whose exams were almost all in the tougher new format, with a 9-1 system replacing A* to E to show greater differentiation between grades.
The proportion receiving the top grades – at least a 7 or an A grade – is the highest since 2015 and is the second year-on-year rise in a row. The proportion of entries getting at least a 4 or a C grade is also the highest since 2015.
A pupil cries tears of joy after receiving her GCSE results today at Merchant Taylors’ Girls’ School in Crosby, Merseyside
Somto Elumogo (centre) and other students celebrate with their GCSE results at Norwich School in Norfolk this morning
A group of pupils at Merchant Taylors’ Girls’ School in Crosby, Merseyside, celebrate their GCSE results this morning
Grace Murray (left) and Lucy Garside (right) celebrate with their GCSE results at Norwich School in Norfolk this morning
As the Joint Council for Qualifications published the data, Prime Minister Boris Johnson wished students luck and said: ‘Nothing beats hard work and effort – and the greatest reward is knowing that you’ve done your best.’
A total of 67.3 per cent of UK entries scored a C/4 or above, up from 66.9 per cent last year. The lead enjoyed by girls over boys at A/7 is unchanged from last year (6.5 percentage points).
Key figures in the results
Here are the main figures in today’s GCSE results:
- The proportion of entries receiving the top grades (A/7 or above) has risen to 20.8%, up 0.3 percentage points on last year and the highest level since 2015. It is the second year-on-year rise in a row.
- 67.3% of entries received a C/4 grade or above, an increase of 0.4 points on 2018. This is also the highest level since 2015.
- The gap between girls and boys getting grade A/7 is unchanged from last year. 24.1% of entries by girls got A/7 or higher, compared with 17.6% for boys, a lead of 6.5 points.
- The gap at grade C/4 has narrowed for the second year in a row. 71.7% of entries by girls got C/4 or higher, compared with 62.9% for boys, a lead of 8.8 points. Last year the lead was 9.1.
- The most popular subject was double award science, followed by maths and English. Among all the subjects individually listed, the least popular was leisure and tourism with 111 entries.
- The subject with the largest percentage jump in entries was statistics, which rose 55%, from 15,562 entries in 2018 to 24,027 this year. The second largest increase was for Welsh second language (up 33%) followed by economics (up 17%).
- The subject with the largest proportional drop in entries was leisure and tourism, which fell 95% from 2,306 entries in 2018 to just 111. The next biggest drop was for hospitality (down 88%), followed by health and social care (down 83%).
- The overall pass rate – the proportion of entries getting G/1 or above – is unchanged from last year at 98.3%. This is the lowest overall pass rate since 2007.
- There were 5,547,447 entries for the exams, up 77,371 on last year – a rise of 1.4%.
Meanwhile the gap at C/4 has narrowed slightly from 9.1 points to 8.8. The number of UK entries getting C/4 or above in English and maths has increased slightly since last year.
A total of 62 per cent of UK entries scored C/4 or above in English, up from 61.8 per cent, while 59.6 per cent of entries scored C/4 in maths, up from 59.4 per cent.
Pupils face the toughest GCSE results day to date today with headteachers claiming the exams were so hard that some lower-attaining pupils refused to sit them.
Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary of the National Education Union, congratulated students, but raised concerns about the reformed GCSEs being ‘significantly worse for the mental health of students’.
She said: ‘Removing coursework and having most subjects assessed entirely by exams taken at the end of Year 11 makes GCSEs an all-or-nothing, high-stakes experience for students, completely unnecessarily, and focuses study on what will be best for passing the exam, rather than on developing a wider skill set.
‘To add to this, both the difficulty and size of GCSE content has increased with the reforms.
‘The result is that the majority of schools are feeling forced to start GCSE courses in Year 9, or even earlier, with a view to getting through everything.’
She added: ‘The current system has so many negative side effects that a re-think is sorely needed.
‘As a start, schools should be freed from the straitjackets of Progress 8 and EBacc and empowered to act upon their professional expertise in helping students decide which courses to take.’
Most respondents to an Association of School and College Leaders survey of 554 schools in England said the new exams were tougher, reported BBC News.
One deputy headteacher said: ‘Lower-attaining students are completely demoralised by these exams. We have an increasing number refusing to attempt mocks and actual exams. This has never happened before.’
Emily Fox (left), who got all 9s, reacts as pupils get their results at King Edward VI High School for Girls in Birmingham today
Zainab Islam, who got five 9s, three 8s and one 6, hugs her fellow pupil Natalia Stepniak at the school in Whalley Range today
Kitty Taylor (centre left) celebrates her GCSE results as her parents and Amy Barker (centre right) at Norwich School today
Laurence Herring (right) and Gerald Ikazoboh (centre right) with their GCSE results at Norwich School in Norfolk today
The content of the exams has been made more challenging, with less coursework, and exams at the end of the two-year courses, rather than throughout.
Another assistant headteacher said: ‘These have been designed without a thought for low prior attaining or SEN (special educational needs) students.
‘I cannot think of anything more dispiriting than going through school thinking every day ‘I cannot do this’ – but that is the reality for many students.’
The new 9-1 grading system means it is harder to score a clean sweep of the highest possible grades.
A further school leader said: ‘A large proportion of students are being failed by the new GCSEs.
‘Not everyone is suited to them and, while they may be a good pathway for those students going on to A-level or degree level, they are simply not fit for purpose for students who may thrive with a more vocational route.
‘These students are made to feel they are constantly failing no matter how hard they work because they struggle to retain the list of endless facts they need for their exams.’
As hundreds of thousands of youngsters open their exam results, Mr Johnson said: ‘Huge congratulations to everyone receiving their GCSE results today.
‘I’m delighted to see an increase in those studying EBacc subjects – including science, computing and foreign languages – as well as creative studies, meaning pupils are getting the rigorous yet well-rounded education they need.
A pupil receives a hug after picking up her GCSE grades today at Merchant Taylors’ Girls’ School in Crosby, Merseyside
Joe Beadman hugs Somto Elumogo as they celebrate with their GCSE results at Norwich School in Norfolk this morning
A teenager at Bolton School in Greater Manchester looks through his GCSE results this morning
Natalia Stepniak (left), who achieved six 9s and three 8s, and Amina Ibrahim (right), who achieved four 9s, three 8s and 7s, open their GCSE results at Whalley Range 11-18 High School in Manchester this morning
‘As I said last week, my Government will do all we can to increase funding for education and to give schools the powers they need to deal with bad behaviour and bullying so pupils continue to learn effectively.’
Girl, 16, was taken out of GCSE exam before being told she had cancer
Hannah Fraser, 17
A schoolgirl who complained of feeling tired was taken out of her GCSE exam before being told she had cancer.
Hannah Fraser, of Formby, Merseyside, was taken away from the exam hall at Range High School, on May 18 last year and told to meet her father by the headteacher, who said to her ‘you need to go to hospital, you’ll be okay’.
Doctors at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital found a tumour had shown up on a scan, then Hannah was told she was suffering from a cancer called Hodgkin Lymphoma.
Despite Hannah then undergoing chemotherapy, she decided to carry on doing the rest of her GCSE exams at home with an invigilator.
And on August 22 last year, she discovered she had achieved seven including English, maths and science.
Hannah said: ‘I didn’t really expect to pass any of them. I didn’t want to open my results with everyone else, they were all really happy with their results. So my teacher took me into her office and said go on open them.
‘When I opened the envelope I burst out crying I couldn’t believe it, I rang my mum crying. She was standing with the other mums and she thought I was crying because I was upset at first but they were happy tears.’
Then on October 16 last year, Hannah got a phone call from Alder Hey to say she had come to the end of her treatment – just days before her 17th birthday.
Yesterday, head teachers warned parents not to make their children feel like ‘failures’ if they miss out on all grade 9s – with less than 0.2 per cent expected to achieve this.
School standards minister Nick Gibb told ITV’s Good Morning Britain today: ‘Stress has always been there, it always will be there – but we don’t want young people to be unfairly stressed.’
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson added: ‘Congratulations to all of those who are picking up their GCSE results today – I remember the nerves and excitement that came with waiting for mine like it was yesterday.
‘Today’s results show pupils are going on to further study and the world of work with the best possible foundations, focusing on the academic cornerstones of education while also stretching themselves creatively.
‘The opportunities that await them are the best they’ve ever been, so whether they go on to do A-levels, an apprenticeship, technical or vocational qualification, they will do so with the skills they need to thrive in 21st century Britain, and support this country as we build for the future.’
Some experts have labelled the new GCSEs a farce, because exam boards have been ordered to set the grade boundaries low so that students are ‘not disadvantaged’ by the exams being harder.
After this fiddling around, 20 per cent of entries will get at least a grade 7 – equivalent to the old A –while two thirds will get at least a 4, equivalent to the old C.
The toughest aspect is the greater differentiation at the top, with 7, 8 and 9 replacing the old A and A* and the grade 9 representing the very top portion of the old A*.
The new exams have been gradually phased in since 2017 and this year all but two were in the reformed format.
According to analysis by Education Datalab, 818 students got a clean sweep of grade 9s last year.
Sally-Anne Huang, vice chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), which represents the top private schools, warned that even top students may miss out on grade 9s.
‘The top grade 9 is harder to achieve,’ she said. ‘Only a tiny percentage of people are ever going to get all 9s.
Anna Jones looks at her seven 9s and two 8s with friends today at Parrs Wood High School in Didsbury, Greater Manchester
Three girls open their GCSE results at a school in Oldbury on ITV’s Good Morning Britain today
A girl is overcome with emotion while opening her results in Oldbury today on the ITV show
‘So it’s really important for the adults, who are supporting their children through their GCSEs, that they understand that an 8 or a 7 is also a huge achievement.
‘Cash and holidays on offer for good grades’
Holidays, technology, video games and cold hard cash are up for grabs by teenagers who score good exam grades, a poll suggests.
The survey indicates that many parents have pledged gifts to their youngsters in return for their hard work, with money the most popular incentive.
In total, just over three-quarters (77%) of those questioned said they have promised to reward their children if they do well in their GCSEs, A-levels or other exams this year.
Of these, more than half (54%) are offering money, while around a quarter (24%) will fork out for a holiday.
Similar proportions are offering up a new piece of technology, such as a phone or laptop (26%) or a video game (27%).
In addition, of those who said they will be rewarding their offspring, almost a fifth (18%) said they will only be doing so if their child gets top grades, while 14% said they will reward their child for every top grade they achieve.
The median sum on offer for a grade 9 – the top grade at GCSE – is £100, the survey calculates.
The poll, commissioned by financial services provider OneFamily, comes the day before students across England, Wales and Northern Ireland receive their GCSE results.
It found that of those who have promised rewards, more than half (57%) said they believe that doing so helps to motivate children, while three in 10 (29%) think it provides youngsters with a more ‘real world’ goal.
Just over a third (34%) think rewards help youngsters to get better results and 42% said they think it makes them work harder.
In addition, 42% said they believe rewards teach the value or relationship of hard work and money.
The Savanta survey questioned 2,000 UK parents, the majority of whom had children taking exams this year, beteen August 6 and 12.
‘It’s important that we don’t make our young people feel that because they haven’t got the top grades in everything that’s a failure.’
Yesterday, ASCL, the union for secondary heads, said eight in ten of its members claim the new exams are ‘failing’ low-ability pupils because the hard content is ‘dispiriting’.
One deputy head said: ‘Lower attaining students are completely demoralised. We have an increasing number refusing to attempt mocks and actual exams.’
Meanwhile, the National Education Union said a survey of classroom teachers had found 73 per cent thought the reforms had ‘worsened student mental health’.
The new exams, pioneered by then education secretary Michael Gove, were introduced to address concerns of ‘dumbing down’ and grade inflation under New Labour.
Previously, Mr Williamson said: ‘We will continue to focus on discipline, outcomes and standards, so that young people will get a better and better education.’
‘Today is a proud day for students, teachers and parents up and down the country, and I wish them all the very best for their results.
‘It should also be an exciting day. It’s a day that marks the culmination of years of hard work and opens doors that can create life-changing opportunities.’
Last year, one in five UK entries (20.5 per cent) picked up at least a 7 or an A grade, roughly in line with previous years.
Around two thirds (66.9 per cent) of UK entries were awarded at least grade 4, or C, last summer, according to data published by the Joint Council for Qualifications.
Separate figures, published by exams regulator Ofqual, showed that just 732 16-year-olds in England taking at least seven new GCSEs scored straight 9s – the highest grade available under the new system – in all subjects.
This is just a tiny fraction (0.1 per cent) of the more than half a million teenagers in England who take GCSEs.
Philip Nye, researcher at Education Datalab said the numbers getting straight grade 9s ‘might go up a little bit because there are more subjects in the 9-1 system, but it is very difficult to say what will happen.’
Students open their GCSE results at the school in Oldbury on ITV’s Good Morning Britain today
Of those who got a clean sweep last year, 62 per cent were female and 38 per cent male.
Key changes in new GCSE grading system as part of education reforms that began under the coalition
What is the new grading system?
– Traditional A* to G grades have been replaced with a 9 to 1 system, with 9 the highest mark.
– English and maths GCSEs – core subjects taken by all teenagers – were the first to move to the new system, with numerical grades awarded for these courses for the first time in 2017.
– Last summer, another 20 subjects had new grades awarded for the first time, including core academic courses such as the sciences, history, geography and modern foreign languages.
– This summer, new grades will be awarded for the first time in a further 25 subjects including business, design and technology, and many languages such as Chinese and Italian.
– This change is only happening in England.
Why was the grading system changed?
– The move is part of a wider reform of exams which has seen a complete overhaul of the content and structure of GCSEs.
– Schools and colleges have been teaching these new GCSEs for the last three to four years, and it is only now that grades are starting to be awarded.
– The new courses feature much less coursework than the old GCSE qualifications, and modular courses, which saw pupils sit papers throughout their studies, have been scrapped in favour of ‘linear’ GCSEs in which pupils take all of their exams at the end of the two-year course.
– The new grading system is meant to clearly distinguish new courses from the old qualifications.
What does this mean for students?
– In general, a grade 7-9 is roughly equivalent to A-A* under the old system, while a grade 4 and above is roughly equivalent to a C and above.
– Fewer students will receive a grade 9 than would have received an A* under the old grading system. This is because part of the reason for introducing a new grading system was to allow more differentiation among the brightest students.
– Last year, 732 16-year-olds in England taking at least seven new GCSEs scored a clean sweep of grade 9s in all subjects.
– This year, most teenagers are likely to get numerical grades for all of their subjects, as almost all subjects have now moved over to the new grading system.
Isn’t this all confusing?
– There have been concerns raised in the past that the system may be confusing, for example to parents, or businesses presented with potential job candidates with different types of grades.
– Different bodies, including England’s exams regulator Ofqual, have been publishing materials about the change and working to publicise the reforms.
How have we got to this stage?
– Education reforms in England began in 2011, led by then-education secretary Michael Gove. A review of the national curriculum was announced first, with the overhaul of GCSEs starting in 2013.
– In 2014, Mr Gove said the new tougher GCSE courses ‘set higher expectations’, adding ‘they demand more from all students and specifically provide a further challenge to those aiming to achieve top grades’.
Under England’s exams overhaul, GCSEs have been toughened up, with less coursework, and exams at the end of the two-year courses, rather than throughout.
Traditional A*-G grades have been scrapped and replaced with a 9-1 system, with 9 the highest result.
A 4 is broadly equivalent to a C grade, and a 7 broadly equivalent to an A.
Most students receiving GCSE results this summer will get numerical grades for all their subjects as almost all courses have now moved over to the new system.
A total of 25 subjects will be awarded new grades for the first time this year.
GCSE courses are also taken by students in Wales and Northern Ireland where there have been separate exam reforms.
A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘Exams are an essential part of ensuring that young people have acquired the knowledge and skills they need, but should never be at the expense of a young person’s wellbeing.’
In Northern Ireland, the number of top GCSE results dropped by 2.2 percentage points following a shake-up of the grading system.
This was the first year a new A* to G grading system was used for all locally-awarded qualifications to bring them into line with that in England. Michael Gove first introduced the significant change in a bid to drive up standards.
Northern Ireland’s A* issued by the local awarding body has this year been fully realigned to the 9 grade in England. A new C* has also been introduced.
A* grades dropped by 2.2 percentage points from 9.9 per cent last year to 7.7 per cent. The proportion of candidates awarded A*-C increased by 1.1 percentage points from 81.1 per cent last year to 80.7 per cent.
Overall, students performed well, with slight increases at grade C and above. Boys narrowed the performance gap with girls to 7.1 percentage points.
GCSE maths saw a 3.2 percentage point increase at A*-C from 68.1 per cent to 71.3 per cent.
In 2016 former DUP education minister Peter Weir decided that Northern Ireland should realign to the new English grading system.
That overturned a decision not to do so a year earlier by his predecessor as minister, John O’Dowd, which led the two largest English GCSE exam boards to say they would not offer GCSE courses in Northern Ireland..
In Northern Ireland this year, 30.5 per cent of boys and girls received an A. That compares with 20.8% across the UK as a whole. A quarter of boys and 35.7 per cent of girls obtained an A.
In English there was a half a percentage point increase at grade C and above, and maths saw a 3.3 percentage point increase.
More pupils were studying subjects like health and social care, construction and drama, and fewer students took German, ICT and Spanish.
Science single award moved out of the most popular subjects for boys and was replaced by geography. Home economics and ICT was replaced by history and single award science among girls.
A 1.4 percentage point decrease in proportional entry for STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) was noted but it was too early to discern a trend.
There was a 0.3 percentage point decrease in proportional entries for languages. This year saw a 5.2 per cent decline in the number of entries. The trend was particularly marked among 15 and 17-year-olds.
‘It’s like they WANT me to fail’: Tension rises for GCSE students as exam boards release ‘cryptic’ grade boundaries ahead of results today
Half a million 16-year-olds will found out today how they got on after becoming the first year-group whose exams were almost all in the tougher new format.
The content has been made more challenging, with less coursework, and exams at the end of the two-year courses, rather than throughout.
The new 9-1 grading system replaces A* to E and allows greater differentiation between grades. It means it is harder to score a clean sweep of the highest possible grades.
But one student posted on Twitter: ‘What the f*** is up with these grade boundaries, its like they don’t want me to pass.’
Another tweeted an image of a confused man and a mathematical equation and wrote: ‘Why tf is the English lit boundaries so bloody high??’