GCSE results: Boys finally get even (...almost) as grades see record drop

GCSE students saw a record drop in results on Thursday, but boys narrowed their gap with girls as exams returned to normal after the pandemic.

Top grades dropped by 16 per cent across the board as exam chiefs battled pandemic grade inflation, but boys’ results fell by less than those of girls.

While girls are still ahead, the gap in results between the two sexes is lower than it was before the pandemic and the narrowest it has been since 2009. Overall, results today are still higher than those in 2019 when exams were last graded normally.

There were 202,500 fewer top grades than last year, but 142,000 more than in 2019 — the last year exams were graded normally. Today’s results show:

  • The number of GCSEs given top grades of 7/A or above fell to 22 per cent, compared to 26.3 per cent last year. This is a drop of 16 per cent. Before the pandemic in 2019, 20.8 per cent of papers got the top grades.

  • Some 68.2 per cent of GCSEs were awarded a 4/C, which is usually considered as the pass mark. This is a drop of 6.8 per cent on last year, when the figure was 73.2 per cent.

  • Girls continued to outperform boys but the gap has narrowed, with boys’ results dropping less after the reintroduction of normal exams and grading. Girls are now 5.8 percentage points ahead of boys at the top grades, compared with 7.4 percentage points last year. The gap is narrower than before the pandemic when girls were 6.5 percentage points ahead. Boys’ results fell by 15 per cent compared to last year, while girls’ results fell by 17 per cent.

  • The number of English exams reaching 4/C dropped by 7.8 per cent to 64.7 per cent. In maths it dropped 5.9 per cent to 61.1 per cent.

  • London outperformed other regions by a large margin, with 28.4 per cent of exams taken in the capital graded 7/A or above. In the North-East, the lowest scoring region, the figure was 17.6 per cent.

  • Independent schools saw a big drop in the number of top grades, but still scored more than most other types of school, with 46.6 per cent given a 7/A. Grammar schools scored highest with 59.3 per cent.

  • In England, 1,160 teenagers scored straight 9s in their exams, and 62 per cent of those were girls.

Claire Thomson, from the AQA exam board, said females tend to outperform males in learning around the world, adding: “It could be about societal expectations, it could be about difference in attitudes to work, the push on equality diversity and inclusion in the classroom changing their shift a little.”

GCSEs are graded from 9 to 1 in England, with a 7 the equivalent to a low A and a 4 to a low C. Results were deliberately lower for the second year running as exams watchdog Ofqual aimed to reduce grades that spiralled during the pandemic when exams were cancelled and marks were based on teacher assessment. The 16-year-olds getting results in England today were the first to return to normal exams and marking since the pandemic began.

Students returned to exams last year but grading was more generous. They were also helped by unprecedented adaptations to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, including being given advance information about the content of some exams. Most mitigations were removed for the students who picked up results today, and grading returned to pre-pandemic standards.