Entry and attainment data for this year’s GCSEs have just been published by the Joint Council for Qualifications. So, what are the top-level trends?
Across all subjects, 21.5% of entries were awarded a grade 7/A or above, compared to 21.1% last year. (A quick word – all figures in the post relate to 16-year-olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland unless otherwise stated.)
At grade 4/C or above, 69.3% of entries achieved the standard this year, compared to 68.9% last year.
Both figures have been on something of a downward trend since 2015, so this year’s figures arrest this decline.
In England and Wales, a further 20 subjects feature in this year’s results in their reformed guise, adding to the reformed English, maths and Welsh GCSEs that featured last year. Nearly all of the large-entry subjects have been reformed in England and Wales now.
Such small – upwards – changes in the grade mix may be unsurprising, given the comparable outcomes policies in force in both England and Wales – which, mean that the mix of grades awarded in a subject largely follows the mix awarded the previous year, if the prior attainment of the 16-year-old cohorts in both years is similar.
That overall picture masks some other trends – see below for some discussion of entry trends in English Baccalaureate subjects and other subjects.
Post-16 entries continue to make up a decent chunk of the total number of GCSE entries in English language and maths, as a result, largely, of funding rules that require certain students continuing in post-16 education to resit these qualifications (in some cases, again and again).
This year there were 160,672 English language entries by 17-year-olds – up on the 147,964 last year. And there were 172,291 post-16 maths entries – slightly down on the 179,945 last year. (Figures here relate to students aged 17 or older in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.) In both cases, though, big numbers.
Achievement rates among these groups are much lower than those for 16-year-olds: in the case of English language, 34.2% versus 69.6%, and for maths, 23.7% versus 70.1%, when considering achievement of a grade 4 or above.
In England, schools are judged on the proportion of students entering the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) – a basket of academic subjects encompassing English, maths, science subjects, the humanities and languages. (EBacc attainment will be measured as an average points score for the first time this year.)
In England and Wales, science, additional science and further additional science GCSEs have been replaced this year with a new double award science GCSE. As explained in greater detail in this post, this appears to have prompted some schools to review their science entry decisions – putting more pupils in for the three single sciences, and hence contributing to 22%, 18%, 17% and 10% increases in biology, chemistry, physics and computer science entries respectively among 16-year-olds across the UK this year.
Stripping out the sciences, entries in EBacc subjects combined are in fact down by 1% (though, as mentioned above, the 16-year-old population has also reduced).
That includes entry numbers being broadly stable or up in the larger-entry modern foreign languages (French, -2%; German, 3%; Spanish, 5%). At least some of the increase in German and Spanish entries is believed to be a result of switching award from IGCSEs, or international GCSEs, in these subjects.
And entries in history and geography were also up – by 4% and 2% respectively.
By contrast, entries by 16 year olds in English literature fell by 3%, largely as a result of early entry in Year 10 (age 15), which we wrote about in this blogpost.
Entries for non-EBacc subjects were also down, by around 18% – though entries and art and design subjects were up 1%, bucking the trend.
We’ll be taking a further look at the grade mix – specifically focusing on the top end – in the subjects that have been newly reformed in England and Wales this year later this morning.
And you can explore the trends in entries and attainment yourself on our results day hub. If there’s anything else you think we should take a look at, do leave a comment below.
1. In the case of English language and English literature, maths and Welsh first and second language GCSEs, the number of entries by 16-year-olds in Wales will have been inflated last year, by the fact that the reformed version of these qualifications was newly available last summer, reducing the number of Year 10 entries the year before. This will have had some bearing on comparisons between 2017 and 2018. (Similar behaviour is less likely to have occurred in England, where there have been large disincentives to enter qualifications early for some years.)
2. We say ‘around’, as the subject categories on which GCSE entries are reported don’t align exactly with the list of subjects that count in the EBacc, so around some smaller-entry subjects a little bit of imprecision is introduced.