GCSE results day 2022: grades down from 2021 record high but above pre-pandemic levels - grades explained

It had been expected that grades would drop below last year but remain above from 2019 results

GCSE results are out today (25 August 2022), with top grades down on last year, but they remain higher than pre-pandemic levels.

In 2021, the proportion of GCSE entries awarded top grades surged to an all-time high, as exams were cancelled for the second year in a row due to Covid-19, and pupils were given results determined by their teachers.

Similar to the pattern with A-level results, published last week, it had been expected that grades would drop below last year, but remain above those from 2019 as students returned to sitting exams for the first time in three years.

Kaitlin Wolmarans (centre) with other students after they received his GCSE results at Norwich School. Credit: PA

What do the figures show? 

Traditional A*-G grades, used in Northern Ireland and Wales, have been replaced with a 9-1 system in England, where nine is the highest.

A 4 is broadly equivalent to a C grade, and a 7 is broadly equivalent to an A.

Overall, figures show top grades of 7/A have fallen from 28.9% in 2021 to 26.3% this year - a drop of 2.6 percentage points.

The data was published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which covers GCSE entries from students predominantly in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But this number remains higher than the equivalent figure for 2019 of 20.8%.

The proportion of entries receiving a 4/C – considered a pass – dropped from 77.1% in 2021 to 73.2% this year, which is a fall of 3.9 percentage points, but remains higher than the 2019 figure of 67.3%.

Maddie Hallam with her mother receiving her GCSE results at Norwich School, in Norwich, Norfolk. Credit: PA

Girls continued their lead over boys this year, with 30.0% of entries achieving a 7/A, compared with 22.6% for males.

However, the gap has closed slightly from last year, when 33.4% of female entries were awarded 7/A or above compared with 24.4% for males, a lead of 9 percentage points.

Separate figures, published by exam regulator Ofqual, revealed that 2,193 16-year-olds in England got grade 9 in all their subjects – including 13 students who did at least 12 GCSEs.

Meanwhile, Pearson, an exam board warned this week that thousands of students could miss out on being issued BTec (Business and Technology Education Council) results today.

It said changes this year, made to take into account disruption to teaching and learning during the pandemic, had “added more complexity to the process” and that without full information they are unable to award students their results.

Finney Harrod receiving his GCSE results at Norwich School. Credit: PA

What was said about GCSE results day 2022? 

Kath Thomas, interim chief executive officer of JCQ, congratulated students on getting their results “after lots of hard work and all the challenges of the pandemic”.

She 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.”

How have regional disparities been addressed? 

Labour has accused successive Tory governments of “failing our children”, pointing to regional disparities in results.

Statistics show that last year fewer than four in 10 students in Knowsley, in the North West, achieved a pass in English and maths, whereas other areas including Trafford in Greater Manchester, Kingston-upon-Thames in south-west London, and Buckinghamshire, saw some seven in 10 young people got a pass in both subjects.

Shadow schools minister Stephen Morgan said: “Young people receiving results have worked incredibly hard, but 12 years of Conservative governments have left a legacy of unequal outcomes that are holding back kids and holding back communities.”

However, a spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “We have set out a range of measures to help level up education across England, including targeted support both for individual pupils who fall behind and whole areas of the country where standards are weakest.

“This is alongside £5 billion to help young people to recover from the impact of the pandemic, including £1.5 billion for tutoring programmes.”

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton said that, despite schools’ best efforts to support pupils with remote education and to plug learning gaps, there will “inevitably” have been an impact on learning.

Claiming the Government has had a “lacklustre and chaotic support for education recovery”, he said: “It is important to understand this year’s results at school and pupil level in this context and we would urge Ofsted and regional schools commissioners in particular not to rush to judgments.”