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North South Divide in GCSE and Vocational Results Widens

Significant regional differences in the percentage of top GCSE grades were exposed today following the publication of results.

Hundreds of thousands of students receive GCSE and vocational results today. It is the first time in three years that students have sat summer GCSE examinations as the country returns to normality post-Covid.

Overall, GCSE results were higher than in 2019 and lower than in 2021 in line with plans set out by Ofqual last year, ensuring fairness for students.

In London, 32.6% were marked at grades 7/A and above, compared to just 22.4% in the north east of England and in Yorkshire and the Humber.

The percentage-point gap here – between the regions with the highest and lowest proportions of top grades – is roughly the same as it was in 2021, but wider than it was in 2020 and 2019.

Picture1 2
Percentage of top grades, 7 (formerly A) and above, by region 2022 (Source Ofqual)

Top grades have increased

Students collecting results today will progress to one of several high-quality options including A levels, T Levels, or an apprenticeship. From September there will be 16 T Levels available for young people to study, in subjects including digital, health, accounting, engineering and construction, offered at over 175 schools and colleges across England.

Just over three-quarters (75.3%) of GCSE grades for 16-year-olds in England are at grade 4 or above, up from 69.9% in 2019 when formal exams last took place and down from 79.1% in 2021, in line with the policy intent set out last year.

Top grades for 16 year olds in England have also increased from 2019 as intended, with 27% of entries achieving a grade 7 and above, up by 5.2 percentage points compared to 2019, and 3 percentage points lower than 2021.

In line with the plans announced last autumn and as part of the transition back to pre-pandemic grading levels, the Government said overall grades today are higher than in 2019 – recognising the unprecedented disruption students have faced – but lower than in 2021 when exceptional steps were taken to ensure progression.

Continued support for pupils

Students were supported with a range of adaptations this year including advance information on the content of some exams, formula sheets and content optionality for GCSE students while some students doing vocational and technical qualifications were given longer assessment windows.

This is alongside continued support from the National Tutoring Programme, through which the Government is offering up to six million tutoring courses over the lifetime of the programme. So far over two million courses have started. In 2022/23, the government will provide £349 million direct to schools to subsidise the cost of tutoring.

In recognition of the greater gaps in older pupils’ learning and the lower amount of time those pupils have left in education, the Government is investing over £800 million to increase time in schools and colleges at 16-19 around 40 hours a year from September for all students.

The additional funding schools receive to support pupils’ recovery will also nearly double for secondary schools from September 2022, with a typical secondary school set to receive £60,000 for evidence-based activities such as extra support with English and maths, attendance initiatives and summer schools, as part of the £1 billion recovery premium.

Commenting on the results, Education Secretary, James Cleverly said: “Students receiving their results today should be extremely proud, and I want to congratulate them all. The teaching profession has worked incredibly hard and these results are a testament to the resilience of both our students and staff.

“We have the most exciting range of post-16 options for students to choose from now, whether that’s one of our exciting new T Levels, an apprenticeship or A levels. There is an option for everyone.”

“I wish students the very best of luck, no matter what those next steps are.”

Statistics published today also show:

  • Entries at grade 4 or above for 16-year-olds in England were 77.2% for GCSE English and 75.1% for GCSE maths
  • Attainment gap between boys and girls narrowed compared to 2021 at the top grades
  • The proportion of geography and history entries are up by 10.1% and 5.7% respectively compared to 2019, bringing entries into EBacc subjects to nearly four million
  • The proportion of grades at 7 and above in independent schools in England has dropped by 8.3 percentage points on 2021, compared to 2.4 percentage points in academies, narrowing the gap between the two groups at this grade
  • 369,220 certificates across 141 qualifications have been awarded since March 2022, 96% of which are Technical Awards taken alongside GCSEs.

There are a wide range of apprenticeship opportunities available to young people, offering them the chance to earn while they learn and gain the skills needed to secure exciting careers in anything from space engineering, teaching, cyber security, nursing, social care or film and TV.

The Government is investing nearly £5 billion to support students’ recovery from the impact of the pandemic, including £1.5 billion for tutoring programmes.

Separate funding is also being targeted at the areas of the country where outcomes are weakest through the Government’s 55 Education Investment Areas, including investment to attract and retain the best teachers through bursaries and funding to increase the number of schools that can benefit from the support of a strong trust.

Delays to BTec results

Exam board Pearson has apologised to everyone whose BTec Level 2 results are delayed today. They said 5,700 students were still “ineligible” to receive a result because they did not have all the information needed to award a grade.

Last week, thousands of students were left waiting for their BTec Level 3 grades – which are roughly equivalent to A-levels. This week, it has happened again with the Level 2 results, equivalent to GCSEs.

Schools Minister Will Quince told the BBC the exams regulator, Ofqual, is looking into it and that Education Secretary, James Cleverly has met with the awarding bodies “to ensure these issues are being addressed”.

GCSE results and delays to BTec results, Minister Will Quince
Schools Minister, Will Quince has apologised over further delays to BTec results. (Photo: BBC News)

Final thought

First, from the whole team at Curia and Chamber we want to congratulate all students receiving their results today. Warm wishes for a bright future ahead to you all.

Businesses have been quick to call on the Government to redress the divide in educational attainment following today’s GCSE results.

With criticism of the Conservative leadership candidates not focussing enough on levelling up Today’s results show that the new Prime Minister must refocus efforts on reducing the skills gap between regions if they are to deliver the manifesto commitment of levelling up.

The impact of the pandemic has been stark, the pupils who received their grades have been through a huge amount over the last few years. This represents a considerable proportion of their young lives. It will be for teachers and the Government to prevent this from becoming a lost generation.

That is why as a policy institute, Curia will seek to produce a new Education Commission in 2022. One that looks at the commitments of this government on levelling up, skills improvement and educational attainment.


To find out more, contact Policy and Research Analyst annmarie.debrah@chamberuk.com

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