The proportion of pupils achieving top GCSE grades has dropped by just nine per cent since 2021 after the first summer exams in three years.
Today’s results data shows 27 per cent of grades handed to 16-year-olds in England were 7 to 9. It marks a decline on the 30 per cent recorded in 2021, but still way up on the 21.8 per cent in pre-pandemic 2019.
Exams regulator Ofqual had said this year that grades would be brought back down after large rises when teachers decided grades in the previous two years.
This year’s results would mark a “midway point” between those issued last year and in pre-pandemic 2019, Ofqual previously said.
But the fall in top grades equates to reversing roughly just a third of the inflation since 2019 – rather than the half that would be expected to reach a midway point.
It suggests that the regulator will have to implement more drastic downgrading next year to get top grades back to to pre-pandemic standards – despite those pupils also having suffered from Covid disruption.
The grade 5 pass rate – considered a “strong pass” – has dropped from 62.8 per cent in 2021 – when teacher assessed grades were awarded – to 60.3 per cent in 2022.
However, this is still higher than the 53.5 per cent in 2019.
The grade four pass rate for 16-year-olds in England – considered a “standard pass” – was 75.3 per cent, down from 79 per cent last year, but higher than the 69.9 per cent in 2019.
The drop in the 4-plus pass rate is around 40 per cent of the fall needed to return to 2019 levels – so closer to the midway aim.
Dr Jo Saxton, chief regulator, said students can be “so proud of their achievements – a testament to their hard work and resilience over the past two years”.
“I felt strongly that it would not have been right to go straight back to pre-pandemic grading in one go but accept that we do need to continue to take steps back to normality. These results overall, coming as they do broadly midway between 2021 and 2019, represent a staging post on that journey.”
NRT shows big drop in maths – but no grade changes
The regulator has also published a digest of this year’s national reference test results. The NRT is taken by a sample of students each year to monitor pupil performance over time and inform GCSE grading.
The 2022 NRT found no statistically significant difference at any key grades in English when compared to 2020 results.
However, maths showed a “statistically significant downward change” when compared to 2020. But Ofqual “decided not to implement a downward change [in grades] because this would be counter to the wider policy intent of more generous grading to reflect the disruption caused by the pandemic”.
Last year’s NRT also showed a big drop in maths performance, when compared to 2020. Performance this year has actually slightly improved since then, but is still below pre-pandemic.
Education secretary James Cleverly said pupils should be “incredibly proud”, especially given the “unprecedented disruption” they have faced.
He also thanked the “brilliant teaching profession”, parents and carers for their support for young people.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, warned: “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 judgements.”