GCSE top grades reach record high after exams cancelled for a second year

Students across Cumbria are receiving their GCSE results which have been determined by teachers after this year's exams were cancelled.

A young entrepreneur from Whitehaven is reassuring students that they shouldn't feel defined by results alone.

Oliver Hodgson left school before he had sat his GCSE exams, due to a mixture of mental health and social difficulties.

Two years on he says pupils who miss out on the grades they want, shouldn't be disheartened as it doesn't solely define your ability to succeed. At the age of just 17, Oliver runs his own marketing and PR agency in the Lake District.

Oliver added: "Good grades certainly help and can give you the dreaded fall-back plan, but even if you do leave school with excellent grades, it doesn't necessarily mean you are going to be a shining success. Employers, particularly in the creative and start-up spaces, look for experience, commitment, drive, and modern skillsets not just a plain CV."

The proportion of GCSE entries awarded top grades has surged to an all-time high after exams were cancelled for the second year in a row due to Covid-19.

Hundreds of thousands of youngsters have been given results determined by their teachers, with pupils only assessed on what they have been taught during the pandemic.

Overall, 28.9% of UK GCSE entries were awarded one of the three top grades this year, up by 2.7 percentage points on last year when 26.2% achieved the top grades, figures for England, Wales and Northern Ireland show.

Girls have pulled further ahead than boys amid the rise in top grades this year. The gap between boys and girls achieving one of the top three grades has risen from eight percentage points in 2020 to nine percentage points this year.

According to figures from Ofqual, the number of 16-year-old students in England who entered seven or more GCSEs and received a 9 - the highest grade under the numerical grading system - in all subjects has risen.

Some 3,606 students in England received straight 9s this summer, compared with 2,645 in 2020 and 837 in 2019.

Traditional A*-G grades have been scrapped and replaced with a 9-1 system amid reforms, with 9 the highest. A 4 is broadly equivalent to a C grade, and a 7 broadly equivalent to an A.

Students receiving GCSE results in England will get numerical grades for all their subjects as all courses have moved over to the grading system.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "Students should feel proud of their achievements and will now be looking forward to taking their next steps.

"I am also hugely grateful to teachers and school leaders for their hard work to ensure students get the grades they deserve and need to progress to the next stage of their lives."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), is expecting pressure to be placed on admissions teams at sixth forms colleges and schools if grades are inflated this summer.

Ahead of GCSE results day Mr Barton warned that some young people could be "turned away" from courses if centres cannot increase capacity due to limited space and staff.

He said: "I think what we'll see admissions tutors doing on Thursday, and heads of sixth form, is doing their best to make sure that irrespective of grades a young person moves on to what they had wanted to do in terms of their course and the course best suited to them.

He added: "If more students achieve higher grades than anticipated - and they want to study A-levels rather than attend an further education (FE) college - it could cause logistical issues for sixth forms.

"That will leave some courses struggling to be able to run and some courses oversubscribed and definitely a need for further resources. Or some young people just simply disappointed and turned away because there is no way you could increase capacity because of the accommodation and number of teachers you've got."

In Scotland, the national results for the National 5 qualifications were published on Tuesday, which showed that the rate of students receiving between an A and a C - known as the attainment rate - fell.

Students in Scotland have known their individual grades since the end of June.

Sixth-form colleges are calling for more funding from the Government to cope with another likely surge of pupils who will be able to meet entry requirements.

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges said: "Our members certainly saw an increase in the number of students that met the entry criteria last year, and we expect a similar increase this year.

He added: "Additional in-year revenue funding to meet the anticipated surge in demand would also be very welcome, particularly as sixth forms are funded based on the number of students they recruited the previous year."

Last summer, the fiasco around grading led to thousands of A-level students having their results downgraded from school estimates by a controversial algorithm before Ofqual announced a U-turn.

The proportion of GCSE entries awarded top grades rose to a record high last year after grades were allowed to be based on teachers' assessments, if they were higher than the moderated grades given.

This year, teachers in England submitted their decisions on pupils' grades after drawing on a range of evidence, including mock exams, coursework, and in-class assessments using questions by exam boards.

There will not be an algorithm used to moderate grades this summer.