GCSE pupils told to brace for ‘shock’ as 300,000 fewer top grades expected amid return to pre-pandemic grading

21 August 2023, 07:05

GCSE pupils in England have been warned Thursday's results may be a 'shock'.
GCSE pupils in England have been warned Thursday's results may be a 'shock'. Picture: Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

Pupils and parents across England have been told to brace themselves for a “shock” ahead of this week’s GCSE results as students face the return of pre-pandemic grading.

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GCSE pupils have been warned of the return to pre-pandemic grading ahead of this week’s results, as 300,000 fewer top grades are expected.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of education at the University of Buckingham, said the fall in top grades is part of an effort to bring an end to pandemic grade inflation.

He said: “The restoration of the 2019 grade pattern in England will result in another record drop in top GCSE grades as the profligacy of teacher assessment is reversed.

“Although the changes as percentages may not look much, given the huge number of entries, they amount to a substantial drop of some 300,000 top grades.

“This will come as a shock to the pupils and their parents, who may find the grades that emerge hard to accept given what those in the classes above them had received in the preceding three years.”

GCSE grades for this year are expected to fall in line with those from 2019, which would mean around 300,000 fewer top grades.

During the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, teacher-assessed grades resulted in an increase in top grades.

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A-level students faced the toughest marking scheme for four years last week.
A-level students faced the toughest marking scheme for four years last week. Picture: Alamy

He continued: “It is necessary because the emergency reliance on teacher assessment raised the number of top awards by 437,964, giving many pupils a false picture of their capabilities.

“The return to exams in 2022 reduced the excess by 138,597, leaving more than double that distance to go.”

It comes after A-level students were hit by a similar fall in top grades last week, in what was described as a “bruising” result for the year group.

The overall pass rate - A-levels receiving A* to E - fell to 97.3%, down slightly from 98.4% in 2022 and 97.6% in 2019. That is the lowest rate since 97.2% in 2008.

The fall in GCSE grades is expected to hit pupils in England disproportionately, as Wales and Northern Ireland exam regulators have said they will not return to pre-pandemic grading until next year.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “This year, GCSE grading is largely returning to normal in line with plans set out by Ofqual almost two years ago, to ensure qualifications maintain their value and students get the opportunities they deserve.

“For students collecting their results, those opportunities will be greater than ever before thanks to our brand new T-levels, alongside A-levels and other vocational and technical qualifications.

“We will also continue to support pupils through initiatives like the National Tutoring Programme, which is benefiting pupils most in need of support, including those in exam cohorts.”

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