As with A Levels, 2023 is the second year of GCSE exams after they were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, 2022, was treated as a transition year, with grades broadly between those seen in 2019 and 2021.
For 2023, the guidance from Ofqual was that grades would return to their 2019 levels, meaning there would be a fall in the number of top grades. However, as students sitting their GCSEs in 2023 experienced lost learning due to the pandemic, there would be some protection for students. In other words, grades would not fall below 2019, even if actual exam performance was down.
Despite these protections, disadvantaged students are likely to be worst affected by the grade deflation, as they experienced a greater loss of learning both during and after the pandemic, as outlined in this National Audit Office report.
This blog explores the initial JCQ 2023 GCSE data for the UK, looking at just the results for 16 year olds, and you can use the tools below to explore trends over time and subject grade breakdowns. As expected, there have been falls in the proportions of entries achieving the top grades, with grade distributions returning to 2019 levels.
We look at the results for the entirety of the UK, in contrast to our A Level analysis, as the JCQ do not publish qualification data for just 16 year olds at the England level. This UK analysis masks some national differences, as grades fell further in England than in Wales or Northern Ireland.
Grade breakdown over time
As expected, overall outcomes are in line with Ofqual’s intentions, with outcomes falling from previous years to be more in line with 2019 levels.
Explore changes over time in our interactive tool
NB. You can compare 2023 directly with prior years by using the “Year-on-year Comparison” tab
A few key findings
- As expected, the proportion of entries across all subjects achieving at least a grade 4 fell markedly from 2022 to 2023. In comparison to 2019, a slightly higher proportion of pupils had achieved at least a grade 7 but a lower proportion had achieved grades 4 – 6
- In a reversal of the trend seen from 2020 to 2022, and a return to what was seen in 2019, there was a greater proportion of pupils achieving the lowest grades (1-3) than the highest grades (7-9).
- The proportion of pupils achieving the top grades (7-9) in the sciences, excluding double award, were consistently lower in 2023 compared to 2019. However, the proportions of pupils achieving at least a grade 4 were particularly high in the sciences, compared to other subjects.
- The other subjects that saw a fall in the proportion achieving grades 7-9 since 2019 were Spanish, Statistics, Classical Subjects and Irish
GCSE grade breakdown by subject
Explore this year’s GCSE grades by subject in our interactive tool
A few key findings
- In 2023, 71.7% of entries in both English and Maths achieved at least a grade 4. In both cases, this is higher than in 2019 but still leaves a large proportion of pupils needing to retake these exams
- As in previous years, the proportions achieving the top grades (7-9) in single sciences is much higher than in double award. For example, 44.2% of entries in Chemistry achieved at least a grade 7, compared to fewer than one in ten (8.8%) entries in double award science.
- More than six in ten (60.5%) entries in Classical Subjects achieved at least a grade 7, one of the highest proportions of any subjects