GCSE results show widening disparity between the north and south

This years GCSE results have shown a widening gap between the grades achieved in the north and south of the UK.

  • Top grades are still highest in London, with 32.6% of pupils achieving a grade 7 or above.  When compared to last year’s results, highest grades (7+) have fallen most in in the South West, followed by the North West. They fell the least in London.
  • Results are higher than pre-pandemic across all regions, but London has seen the biggest increases since 2019 followed by the South East and East of England at 5.7%.

The fall in top grades (7+) is not as sharp as in last week’s  A-level results, which saw much greater grade inflation during the pandemic. At A-level, results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland revealed top grades down by 8.4 percentage points on last year, while A*s alone decreased by 4.5 points.

As with A-levels, the GCSE grade decline was expected, after Ofqual announced that grades this summer would be drawn at a midpoint between 2019 and 2021, with a full return to pre-pandemic grades expected next summer.

  • Another pattern seen across both GCSE and A-level results was that the biggest drop in the top grades was at independent schools, falling from 61% last year to 53% this year. At grammar schools the number fell from 69% to 66%, and at comprehensives from 26% to 23%.
  • Jon Andrews, Head of Analysis at the Education Policy Institute, said that students should be “proud” of their achievements, but said the key point the government should take-away from today’s results is the north-south divide.

“Perhaps more noteworthy, however, is that this morning’s results show the continuing divide in the attainment levels between different areas of England.”

“While it’s unclear the extent to which this is a continuation of long-term trends of regional disparities, our research has previously highlighted education in the north and the midlands to have been, on average, more severely impacted by the pandemic than in other parts of the country. It’s clear the Government must do more to combat geographic inequalities in educational outcomes.”

The Association of School and College Leaders said that mitigations should be put in place again for 2023’s GCSE exams. They said that next year’s cohort have also been “heavily impacted” by the pandemic during their teaching, leading up to these exams.