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GCSE results 2021: Top grades rise most at private and free schools

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Private and free schools have seen the biggest jump in top grades in this year’s teacher-assessed GCSE results, figures show.

Across England, the proportion of GCSE results overall at grade 7 and above—equivalent to a grade A under the previous system—rose to 28.7 per cent, up from 25.9 per cent last year and 20.7 per cent in 2019.

But increases were far from uniform across different settings, according to analysis by exams regulator Ofqual released as students obtained their results today.

Independent schools saw a 4 percentage point rise in top grades versus 2020, the highest of any setting.

61.2 per cent of privately educated pupils’ results were at grades 7, 8 or 9, the second highest performance behind the 68.4 per cent secured by pupils at selective schools.

Free schools saw the second highest jump in percentage point terms, with a 3.6 per cent increase. Overall results were well behind private and selective schools however, with 29.8 per cent at grade 7 or higher.

Selective schools had the third highest increase, up 2.8 percentage points.

The gains at the higher end of the grade distribution were lower at comprehensives and academies, up 2.4 and 2.2 percentage points respectively.

But Ofqual said the differences could reflect “longstanding differences in the distribution of grades for different centre types”, in a similar analysis to the one it published for A Levels earlier this week.

With more independent pupils typically “clustered around the top grades”,  a rise in grades across the board is therefore more likely to push more of them above top grade thresholds, according to the regulator.

It also said research by exam boards “did not find that any type of school or college was more likely than others to have provided grades that did not reflect the standard of their students’ work”.

But it said changes may “reflect the uneven impact of the pandemic”.

While private and free schools saw the biggest percentage point increases, other settings with fewer top grades last year saw bigger jumps in relative terms.

Sixth form colleges offering GCSEs saw a 46.1 per cent increase in grades at 7 or above, while further education establishments saw a 46.8 per cent rise.

But for sixth form colleges, it still only meant 5.6 per cent of grades were at 6 or above, versus 3.7 per cent the previous year.

Independent schools, with much higher top grades to begin with, saw a correspondingly much lower rise in relative terms of 7.1 per cent.



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