News | Published August 22 2019

GCSE passes and top grades up despite harder exams

The GCSE pass rate and percentage of pupils hitting top grades has increased in 2019 despite more rigorous exams being introduced.

The pass rate is up to 67.3 per cent in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, 0.4 per cent better than 2018.

The percentage of papers awarded a top grade of seven [equivalent to A and A*] was 20.8 per cent, a 0.3 per cent rise on last year.

837 pupils in England achieved the top grade of nine across the board in all subjects this year.

Girls have again outperformed boys in every grade, with more girls getting top and bottom grades than their counterparts. Boys did, however, return better grades overall in mathematics.

An estimated 5.2 million GCSE entries were made this summer, a 50,000 increase on the previous year.

It is a remarkable response from UK pupils after experts had aired concerns that tougher examinations were affecting their mental wellbeing.

The National Education Union say that pupils have been left feeling "disillusioned, disengaged and stressed” by tougher examinations, with some lower-achieving pupils refusing to sit exams at all.

The difficulty of a number of maths exams has come under specific scrutiny from teachers and pupils alike.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has called for exams to be adjusted so they are “less of an ordeal” for more vulnerable students and recommended that a more “humane” means of assessing the ability of pupils should be introduced.

The tougher exams are one of numerous changes that have been made to the grading system, which has included the introduction of a new numerical grading method in England. In Wales and Northern Ireland, several GCSEs are still graded by the A* to G system.

Exam boards and exam regulators endeavour to keep exam standards similar year after year to avoid pupils sitting the new exams coming out with worse grades than their predecessors and harming their future prospects.

Exam regulator Ofqual and the exams board have said that they do this by adjusting grade boundaries during marking to reflect the difficulty of the exams. This means that the national percentages of pupils achieving certain grades isn’t adversely impacted year after year.

Where exams are deemed to be more challenging, standard practice is that the grade boundaries are lowered to make attaining a pass grade or above easier.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb has praised the system for preventing pupils being worse off amid increasing standards each year.

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Authored by

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
August 22 2019

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