GCSE passes for England’s pupils, in the most disrupted academic year in UK history, have risen dramatically.
Grades have been awarded by schools, after exams were cancelled, and data shows 78.8% of papers were rated grade 4 or above. It was 69.9% in 2019.
There was a rise of a quarter in the top grades – a 7 or above, which is equivalent to an A in the old system.
The exams season has been dogged by chaos, with policy changes leading to grades being altered at the 11th hour.
In the latest debacle BTec grades were pulled hours before pupils were to receive them although some schools are giving out grades, which were assessed by schools, anyway.
England exams watchdog, Ofqual is clear that the two years cannot be compared but its efforts to maintain standards through a now discredited algorithm have led to huge problems in the education system and stress for students.
In Wales, where grades are alphabetical, 26% of results were at grade A*or A – up from just over 18% in 2019.
Almost all pupils – 99.6% – received passes at A*-G grades, compared to 97.2% last year.
In Northern Ireland, 37.1% of pupils achieving grade A* to A – up by 5.7 percentage points on last year.
The numbers receiving A*-G grades increased by 0.9 percentage points to 99.7%.
‘The U-turn was for the best’
At Bolton’s Canon Slade School, Sophie, 16, said she was “super happy” with a string of top grades which will allow her to start her A-level course in a few weeks time.
Her sister Hannah is still waiting confirmation of her BTec distinction scores but is “over the moon” with the grades she has so far.
At Bexleyheath Academy in London, parent Heather Dockerill said the results system could have been managed better: “These kids have been through hell.”
But her daughter Jess said that, in the end, she was relieved to have got the grades she needed for sixth form.
Evie, 15, agrees it’s been a challenging year, but but she’s “over the moon” with the results.
“My hard work has paid off so there’s a sense of relief.”
Cory, 16, who did both GCSEs and BTecs said he was proud of his grades.
“2020 has been unfortunate, but I feel like I’ve made the best of the situation and I’ve stayed happy for the whole year.”
Harriet, 16, relieved when her GCSE grades came through: “I honestly don’t think I could have been happier with the results.”
“The U-turn was for the best.”
Graeme Napier, principal of Bexleyheath Academy, said it was great to see happy students.
“It’s reassuring that the awarding bodies have agreed to look at the results again – the important thing is that students get the results they deserve.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said young people should feel “incredibly proud of all they’ve achieved in the face of immense challenge and uncertainty”.
“I also want to pay a special tribute to teachers and school leaders this year who have shown dedication, resilience and ingenuity to support their students to get to this moment.”
Geoff Barton, head of the head teachers’ union ASCL, said students and teachers should be congratulated.
“These have been extraordinarily difficult circumstances, and this generation of young people has suffered a degree of uncertainty and disruption that is without precedent.
“They lost out on the normal rites of passage of leaving school, and on the chance to show what they could do in a set of exams.
“And they must have been watching the news anxiously following last week’s A-level results to see if they were going to lose out again because a computer algorithm might downgrade them – before the government and Ofqual performed a U-turn and reverted to centre-assessed grades.”
On BTecs, exam board Pearson said it needed to look again at grades following the education secretaries’ reversion to centre-assessed grades, which pushed results higher.
However, the late decision is causing even further disruption to students seeking places in further and higher education.
Heads’ leader Mr Barton he could not understand why it had taken Pearson until so late to realise the implications of grade changes for its BTec qualifications.
“It really does need to give an explanation of why this has happened. We feel desperately sorry for the students affected in a year when they have already undergone far too much disruption.”
Pearson said in a statement: “BTec qualification results have been been generally consistent with teacher and learner expectations, but we have become concerned about unfairness in relation to what are now significantly higher outcomes for GCSE and A-levels.”
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