GCSE Pass Rates Drop Slightly Amid Change In Exam System

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As the United Kingdom sees a shake-up in examinations, pass rates dipped slightly, with the number of students attaining the top grades also dropping under the new system.

There were 5,443,072 entrants this year, and across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the proportion of entries scoring a grade C or above has fallen from 66.9 per cent to 66.3 per cent – the 0.6 per cent drop making the new figure the lowest since 2008.

The exam overhaul sees the system to awarding grades being gradually changed from a A* to G system to a 9 to 1 system. English and mathematics were the first to be changed and will be followed by other subjects over the coming years.

The figures for this year, published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), showed that the percentage of students achieving the top-grade A, or a 7 under the new system, has dropped by around half a percentage point to the lowest since 2007 at 20 per cent.

In England, a little more than 2,000 achieved a grade 9, or an A* under the previous system, in all three reformed subjects. 6,500 pupils achieved the top A* mark last year, marking a drop of more than 50 per cent after the overhaul.

Individually, around 50,000 pupils in England achieved the new top 9 grade – 18,600 in Maths, 13,700 in English and around 17,000 in English Literature.

The gender gap across the United Kingdom has widened. Female pupils outperformed their male counterparts, with two thirds of the grade 9’s being awarded to girls in the two English exams. 71 per cent of girls achieved a grade of C (or a 4 in the new system) or above compared with 61.5 per cent of boys.

GCSE results in Northern Ireland improved. The number of pupils achieving grades of A* to C rose 0.4 points to 79.5 per cent, and the overall percentage of students attaining an A* grade rising 0.7 points to 10 per cent.

Following the introduction of new Wales-only qualifications, overall GCSE pass rates fell. Under the system, in which a “large influx” of students sit their exams at the end of year 10, the number of Welsh students achieving A* to G grades fell 1.8 percentage points to 96.9 per cent. Meanwhile, the number gaining the top A* to A grades fell by 1.5 per cent to 17.9 per cent.

The new system of grading in the UK recognises higher achievers with more grades at the higher end. Grade 9 is the new highest grade with the old C grade now being a 4.

The overhaul has cast a lot of doubt, though, with pupils not fully aware of the new system, and last month it emerged that the government spent half a million pounds on explaining confusing GCSE exam reforms.

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