On GCSE and A-Level results days it is often more interesting to look at changes in entries rather than attainment.

A note on coverage

Unless otherwise stated, all figures in this post relate to England only – though results for Wales and Northern Ireland will also be published on Thursday.

After all, the system of comparable outcomes ensures that attainment does not change too much from year to year.

Provisional 2019 entries data published earlier in the year by the exam regulator for England, Ofqual, showed a small increase in the number of GCSEs entered in Year 10 and earlier. This year there have been around 127,000 early entries, with the equivalent data last year showing 123,000. That said, national cohorts of pupils are growing in size.

The chart below gives the numbers of GCSE entries by pupils in Year 10 and below by subject in 2019. Only subjects with at least 1,000 entries are included. Science subjects are notable by their absence.

It is particularly in English language and English literature, religious studies, statistics and other modern languages[2] where early entry occurs.

But what effect does it have, and which schools are doing it?

Which schools entered pupils early?

To explore these questions, I’m going to look at 2018 end of Key Stage 4 data.

Reformed GCSEs (graded 9-1) were awarded for the first time in a large number of subjects – but not all of them – in 2018. Legacy (A*-G) GCSEs entered early by pupils (e.g. in Year 10 in 2017) in those subjects would therefore not count in school performance tables. Therefore, the 2018 data only gives us a partial picture of early entry.

But we nonetheless see that 12.5% (one in eight) of pupils who reached the end of Year 11 in state-funded mainstream schools entered at least one GCSE in Year 10 or earlier.[3]

When we look at how these pupils are distributed across schools, we see large variation.

The vast majority of schools (2,482 out of 3,150) entered fewer than 10% of their pupils for at least one GCSE early, of which 818 did not enter any at all.

By contrast, 211 schools entered at least 90% of their pupils for at least one early GCSE. Fewer than 7% of the national end-of-Key Stage 4 pupil population attend these schools, yet they are responsible for over half of the early GCSE entries.

However, early entry is only slightly correlated (r < 0.1) with a range of school characteristics such as prior attainment and percentage of disadvantaged pupils.

The chart below shows the relationship between disadvantage rate and the percentage of pupils early for GCSEs at school level.

What is the impact of early entry?

Let’s look at the 33,000 pupils (6.4% of the Key Stage 4 cohort) who entered either English language or English literature early.

Disadvantaged pupils were more likely to attend schools that enter pupils early and, consequently, a higher than average percentage (7.5%) were entered early in English.

Disadvantaged pupils who entered these subjects in Year 11 tended to achieve better grades than those who entered them in Year 10. The average point score for GCSEs entered in Year 10 was 4.17 compared to 4.54 in Year 11, the difference being equivalent to more than one-third of a grade.

We’ll be publishing live analysis of this year’s GCSE entries and attainment from 9.30am on Thursday. Sign up to our mailing list to get notifications about new blogposts, or check back here on the day.

In the meantime, check out our microsite, which allows you to explore trends in entries and attainment yourself. We’ll be adding 2019 data at 9.30am on Thursday.

  1. Physical education and religious studies include a small number of entries in short course GCSEs.
  2. All modern foreign languages other than French, German and Spanish.
  3. Pupils are also entered early in other types of qualification, but this post is only concerned with GCSEs.