GCSE results 2020: 8 interesting things we learned

After the government’s U-turn this week to award centre-assessed grades – the statistics released today are must less detailed than what we’d normally get.

However, there’s still lots to pick through, so here’s some of the key findings. (Note: all the findings below are based on figures for 16-year-olds in England only).


1. Grade 5+ pass rate is 61.5 per cent

We also like to highlight the grade 5 and above pass rate (considered a “strong” pass), because it’s how schools are judged in league tables, despite grade 4 being a pass (the equivalent of a C in old money).

That’s all up in the air somewhat this year with no league tables– and questions over whether they’ll return next year.

However – we’ll persist! So, the grade 5-plus pass rate (the proportion of all grades that were 5 or above) has risen to 61.5 per cent, up from 53.5 per cent – an 8 percentage point rise.

When looking just at entry number across the years, there’s been an 18 per cent increase in grade 5 awards and above this year compared to last year (despite the number of entries overall rising by just 2 per cent).

Meanwhile, the 4-plus pass rate is up from 69.9 per cent in 2019 to 78.8 per cent this year. a 8.9 percentage point rise.

GCSE entries are also up. There were 4.7 million entries this year, compared to 4.6 million last year – a rise of 2.3 per cent.


2. Top grades have soared

As expected, this year has ushered in grade inflation like never before (certainly in recent history) following the government’s decision to award pupils centre assessed grades, as opposed to Ofqual’s much-criticised standardised grades.

The proportion of 7 or above grades issued this year rose from 21.9 per cent last year, to 27.6 per cent this year – a rise of 5.7 percentage points.

Looking at the actual numbers of grades – it means nearly 300,000 more 7 or above results were issued this year (a rise of 29 per cent).


3. Standard passes get biggest boost in maths …

The proportion of 7 or above grades in maths rose by 3.9 percentage points (from 20.4 per cent last year to 24.3 per cent this year).

The largest jump in results was seen at the grade 5 or above boundary – with a 7.4 percentage point rise (up from 50.1 per cent last year to 57.5 per cent this year).

We’ve reported here about how improved performance in Ofqual’s national reference tests seems to have played a part.


4. … but loads more top grades in English …

The outlook in English is quite different. For instance, the proportion of 7 grades and above is up by much more: 6.1 percentage points (from 17.4 per cent last year to 23.5 per cent this year).

The largest increase was also at grade 4 or above, which showed a 9.7 percentage point increase (up from 70.5 per cent to 80.2 per cent).

Entry levels are also up! (see finding further down)


5. … and science saw the smallest rise in high grades

Meanwhile, double award science had the lowest increase in top grades among the three subjects with a 2.9 percentage point rise, up from 7.5 per cent last year to 10.4 per cent in 2020. (Probably because higher-attaining pupils normally do the single science subjects)

Like English, it saw the largest rise in 4 grades and above (up by 9 percentage points to 64.5 per cent).


6. We’ve got no data on who won between boys v girls

Unfortunately, this year we didn’t get a break down of grades by gender. Comparing the performance between boys and girls is normally a staple of results day reporting.

This normally comes via the Joint Council for Qualifications, but with the last-minute grading U-turn they’ve said the usual data tables will take a few weeks.


7. Spanish popularity continues…

For subjects with more than 100,000 entries, Spanish tops the charts for the largest increase in entries.

The subject saw an 8 per cent rise in pupils this year, following a similar rise last year. Spanish also overtook French for the first time last year to become the most popular A-level language.

Art and design, history and science also saw increases of around five per cent.

8. … but computing has stagnated

Computing had been inching up in recent years, but it appears to have now stagnated with a decrease of nearly two per cent in England.

It follows controversial reforms which saw the government scrap ICT.

Meanwhile, in the larger courses, there are again fewer entries for religious studies (a decrease of nearly 2 per cent) and small drops in the individual sciences.

Of those below 100,000 entries, physical education saw a 7 per cent drop, with media studies also suffering.

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