GCSE results 2021: Grades soar to record high after second year of pandemic cancelled exams

More than a quarter of GCSE entries have been awarded top grades this year, as results soared to a record high following the second year of cancelled exams.

File photo dated 22/08/19 of students opening their GCSE results at Robert May's School in Odiham, Hampshire (PA/Victoria Jones)

Overall, 28.9 per cent of entries across the UK have achieved one of the top grades this year, up by 2.7 percentage points on last year when 26.2% achieved the top grades, figures for England, Wales and Northern Ireland show.

In 2019, the last year when exams were held, around one fifth (20.8 per cent) of results achieved at least a 7 or an A grade.

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More than three in four (77.1%) of UK entries were awarded at least a 4 – broadly the equivalent of a C – this year, which is up by 0.8 percentage points on last year when 76.3% achieved the grades.

In 2019, just over two in three (67.3%) entries achieved at least a grade 4.

The GCSE figures come just two days after A -Level results also reached a record high, with almost 45 per cent of entries being awarded an A or A* grade on Tuesday.

Both GCSEs and A - Levels have been decided by teacher assessment this year. Last summer, the fiasco around grading led to thousands of A-level students having their results downgraded from school estimates by a controversial algorithm before Ofqual announced a U-turn.

The proportion of GCSE entries awarded top grades rose to a record high last year after grades were allowed to be based on teachers’ assessments, if they were higher than the moderated grades given, following the U-turn.

This year, teachers in England submitted their decisions on pupils’ A-level and GCSE grades after drawing on a range of evidence, including mock exams, coursework and in-class assessments using questions by exam boards.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said pupils receiving their GCSEs have been through an “exceptional year” because of the coronavirus pandemic.

He told Sky News: “This is an exceptional year, designed to make sure that, despite the pandemic, despite the fact we had to cancel exams… because it wouldn’t have been fair for children, young people, to sit exams when they’ve had such different experiences of Covid – the different levels of self-isolation and so on – so a teacher-assessed system was the best alternative to make sure they can go on to the next phase of their education or careers.”