As college students obtain their GCSE outcomes on Thursday, a lot of the dialogue will concentrate on the truth that they’re considerably decrease than final yr, however this was very a lot anticipated. After the usage of teacher- and centre-assessed grades in 2020 and 2021 inflated grades considerably, the {qualifications} regulator, Ofqual, started a two-year course of to return grades to the place that they had been pre-pandemic.


Some college students will inevitably be asking if that is truthful, given the extent of disruption that they’ve skilled of their schooling. That is a kind of conditions wherein there was no good resolution to deal with the large will increase in grades.

However we imagine the strategy adopted to attempt to return issues to regular was finally affordable and pragmatic.

Headline figures present the proportion of entries from 16-year-olds in England awarded a grade 4 or above is down from 79% on the peak and 75% final yr to 70% in the present day, and the proportion getting the upper grades (grade 7 and above), which peaked at 30% in 2021 and was 27% final yr, has fallen to 22% this yr. Whereas these percentages sound giant, it represents a change within the common GCSE grade change of simply one-third throughout all entries since final yr.


However the modifications in grades this yr haven’t been equal throughout topics. Some topics required greater drops to return to one thing just like the 2019 distribution. Topics with smaller numbers of candidates had notably giant rises over 2020 and 2021 and so have seen the most important falls this yr. The proportion of candidates receiving prime grades (7 and above) in topics comparable to computing, music and PE have fallen by about 10 proportion factors in contrast with final yr.

Whereas grades have returned to regular, the education expertise of pupils selecting up their outcomes in the present day has been something however. They confronted intervals of faculty closure and distant studying whereas they had been in years 8 and 9, and extra disruption has been attributable to industrial motion over the previous yr. Pupils on this cohort, together with different older pupils, additionally seem to have discovered it tough to return to high school persistently after the pandemic, with important will increase in pupil absence and, most worryingly, persistent absence.

Given the return to pre-pandemic distribution of grades is by design, the headline outcomes inform us little or no in regards to the impacts these occasions have had on these pupils’ studying.

Outcomes from the nationwide reference exams in English and maths, that are sat by a consultant pattern of yr 11 college students, present a greater method of monitoring requirements over time. Whereas outcomes in English seem to have held up, the outcomes of those exams do seem to indicate that requirements have fallen considerably in maths because the begin of the pandemic. That is in line with our personal analysis, which demonstrated greater results of studying loss in maths than in studying. So we needs to be below no phantasm that all the things is again to “regular”.

The breakdown of outcomes by area is one other indicator of the disparities in pupil outcomes. Simply over 28% of grades awarded to pupils in London had been at grade 7 or above this yr, however within the north-east it was just below 18% and these gaps are widening. We can’t but say whether or not that is as a direct results of the pandemic, however once more our personal evaluation highlights that the pandemic’s results on schooling had been felt extra acutely in elements of the north and the Midlands than in London, definitely for youthful pupils.

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Whereas the grades seen in Thursday’s outcomes signify a return to pre-pandemic instances, the atmosphere for faculties stays difficult. The pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in pupil outcomes and its results are nonetheless being felt, with the drawback hole at its widest in a decade and pupil absences remaining stubbornly excessive. Narrowing drawback gaps needs to be a agency focus for the years forward, with higher focused help wanted to counter persistent inequalities.

Louis Hodge is affiliate director of the Training Coverage Institute

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