Pupils celebrated the highest ever GCSE results this morning with three in 10 results at the top grades.
The figure was twice as high at private schools — 60 per cent — and even greater at selective state schools, with 68 per cent of entries graded at least a 7 or an A.
Girls strengthened their lead over boys. A third of GCSEs taken by girls were graded at least a 7 or an A, compared with a quarter of boys. The gap between richer and poorer pupils widened.
The grade inflation was not as severe as in A-levels earlier this week, but the amount of top grades awarded rose considerably. More than 30 per cent of GCSEs taken by 16-year-olds were graded at least a 7 or an A, up from 27.7 per cent last year. The proportion at grade 4 or a C increased by only 0.2 percentage points to 79.1. The overall pass mark fell by 0.5 percentage points to 99.1 per cent.
Exams were cancelled this year for the second year in a row and replaced by teacher assessed grades, with minimal moderation by Ofqual. Every school and college had to provide supporting evidence to the regulator.
Results for all age groups in the UK, including those taking resits, showed the proportion achieving at least a grade 7 increased from 26.2 per cent last year to 28.9 per cent, while at grade 4 it was 77.1 per cent, up from 76.3 per cent.
The proportion awarded a grade 8 minimum was 16.6 per cent and 7.4 per cent were graded a 9, the highest grade.
Boys achieving a grade 7 increased by 2.2 percentage points to 24.4 per cent but the proportion of girls at this level increased by 3.2 percentage points to 33.4 per cent.
Straight 9s were achieved in at least seven subjects by 3,606 pupils compared with 2,645 last year, and four times the 837 in 2019, the last year in which exams were sat.
Of GCSEs taken at private schools, 61 per cent were at least a 7, according Ofqual analysis relating to all age groups in England, including those taking resits. The figure was 68.4 per cent for grammar schools.
This was compared with 26.1 per cent of students at comprehensive schools and 28.1 per cent for those at academies. Independent schools had the biggest absolute growth, of 4 percentage points, but one of the smallest relative growths compared with last year. The biggest relative growth was for sixth-form colleges.
Ofqual’s analysis said: “The small overall increase in outcomes this year compared to previous years may partly reflect the change in assessment arrangements, for example, teachers may have given students some benefit of the doubt across the multiple opportunities many had to show what they had learned.”
Michelle Meadows, Ofqual’s deputy chief regulator, said the gap between free school meal pupils and other classmates had widened by around one tenth of a grade. This equated to one grade lower across 10 GCSEs taken by a pupil.
She said it was likely that the pandemic could have had an impact on opportunities for different groups to learn.
The biggest teaching union, the National Education Union, said all pupils deserved their results but suggested GCSEs should be scrapped or overhauled. Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary, said: “Every grade is evidenced by examples of students’ work and performance and so everyone can rely on these grades to help students move on to their next step. Like with A-Level results on Tuesday, any talk of different profiles of grades must take into account an understanding that the system used this year was different to both last year and other years previously. To make comparisons without this understanding would be inaccurate.
“It is refreshing to know that all students will receive a grade based on their own work and their own merit. In a normal year, the number of top grades is a relatively fixed proportion and the decision about which grade a student gets comes down to where they sit in the rank of order of exams scores. This year’s grades arguably tell you far more about what each individual knows and can do.
“We are clear that lessons from the pandemic can be learned which could improve the assessment system and are supporting an independent commission on assessment and qualifications.”