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Big changes to GCSEs mean you can't compare this year's results to last, warns NAHT

GCSE results day marks the end of an anxious wait for thousands of students, teachers and school leaders across the country.  

General secretary, Paul Whiteman calls to celebrate individual successes, but he warns against making like-for-like comparisons. "Congratulations to everyone receiving GCSE results today. Hopefully, the two years of hard work students have put in has delivered the grades they were hoping for. Congratulations too, to school leaders and their teams. Their year-round effort and dedication mean they can take pride in their students' achievements.

"Unfortunately, every year, these achievements can be overshadowed by comparisons between one year's results and the next. These comparisons never fully take account of the hard work that goes on or all the different ways in which a school contributes to the progress individual pupils can make. In a year which marks the start of unprecedented changes to GCSEs, these kinds of comparisons are particularly unjust and unreliable.

"School leaders have worked hard to help students and their families to understand the change from A-G to 9-1 grades. But there's still plenty of uncertainty about what the results really show. Until all of the reformed GCSEs are fully implemented and we've seen a few more years of the 9-1 system, those who seek to hold schools to account should refrain from comparing this year's results to the last. They are far from a like for like comparison, and for any drop in results, support rather than sanction is the appropriate path to take.

"Further information about entries demonstrates the popularity of subjects and shows that the EBacc requirement is definitely narrowing the choices available to young people. It's clear that the EBacc is compromising schools' efforts to make sure each student can study the subjects that are most appropriate to them. NAHT would like to see the EBacc requirement abandoned altogether. It's an unnecessary strait-jacket that doesn't help students or their schools." 

Useful resources from Ofqual

Ofqual schools' guide to exam boards

Ofqual has released a new guide explaining how Ofqual regulates the exam boards that provide GCSEs, AS and A levels, what schools and colleges can expect from exam boards and what exam boards, in turn, can expect from schools and colleges. This includes information on appeals and reviews of marking.

The full guide can be found here.

Note that it does not cover any other qualifications which might be taken as alternatives to GCSEs, AS and A levels.

Preparing for results day

Ofqual has also published information for schools to aid preparations for GCSE results day.  This includes a letter, a guide for students and one for parents on the results and their standard grading postcard. The link to their materials is available here. These resources have also been added to Ofqual's 9-1 web page here

2017 results

Ofqual has published a number of documents in relation to GCSE results. You can access all of the documents from their home page. The resources include: 

Useful resources from WJEC

WJEC has produced a guide to GCSE results, which provides an overview of results for WJEC and WJEC Eduqas GCSE qualifications. It gives detail on what to expect on results days, the documentation you'll receive, information on grade boundaries, and where additional advice and guidance can be found. The guide is available here

OCR English Literature GCSE

There was an error in the OCR GCSE English Literature paper on Romeo and Juliet this year. OCR will be sending links to their technical information and FAQs directly to all those schools that entered candidates for English literature GCSE with OCR, as well as letters outlining how results were arrived at, and a summary of the steps taken. OCR has also produced statements addressed personally to each candidate and despatched to them on results day.

Downloadable copies of students' marked scripts are being made available to these schools free of charge, and OCR has offered to undertake a review of marking for any student affected, should schools request one, with all fees waived.

All letters, technical information and other communications regarding the error are available here.   

2017 provisional national results 

The 2017 provisional national results for GCSEs have been published by the Joint Council for Qualifications. This year is the first phase of the award of reformed GCSEs in England and Wales. Northern Ireland's reformed GCSEs are yet to be awarded. A significant change in England is the introduction of a 9 to 1 grade scale for reformed GCSEs, with 9 being the highest grade. The grade set in Wales remains unchanged. A few key headlines are outlined below, a more detailed summary can be found at the bottom of the page.

  • Overall the proportion of students gaining at least a C, or a 4 under the new system, in England fell slightly (from 66.5 per cent to 66.1 per cent)
  • In the new maths GCSE, the proportion of pupils in England who got a grade 7/A or above was 15.6 per cent compared with 16.0 per cent last year. The proportion who got a 4/C or above was 59.9 per cent compared with 61.5 per cent last year
  • In English language, the proportion of pupils in England who achieved a grade 7/A or above was 13.6 per cent compared with 13.5 per cent last year. The proportion who got a 4/C or above was 62.0 per cent compared with 59.5 per cent last year
  • The number of English language GCSE entries increased significantly this year by 48 per cent as a result of IGCSEs no longer being counted in school league tables
  • There has been a significant increase in the number of English literature GCSE entries (by 39 per cent) because there is no longer a combined English GCSE, and students must take separate English language and literature GCSEs for English to be double counted in the Progress 8 bucket and for the English requirement of the EBacc to be met
  • This increase has led to an apparent decline in English literature pass rates - the proportion of pupils in England who got a 7/A or higher was 18.7 per cent compared with 21.0 per cent last year. The proportion who got a 4/C or higher was 71.9 per cent compared with 74.5 per cent last year
  • Overall entries in EBacc subjects have risen because of the increase in entries in English language and English literature. Entries decreased in some subjects, for example, in design and technology by 10.5 per cent, in religious studies by 4.7 per cent and in art and design subjects by 4.0 per cent
  • There is a decrease in entries to languages, with entries for German down by 12 per cent, for French by 10 per cent and for Spanish by three per cent
  • Some 51,000 entrants achieved a 9 grade in maths, English and English literature, which required a higher mark than the previous top grade of A*. Just more than 2,000 individual pupils got the maximum possible 9s in all three exams. For comparison, last year around 6,000 pupils got A* in all three

Read NAHT deputy general secretary Nick Brook's blog article about this year's GCSE results here.

If you have any concerns regarding this year's results, contact our advice team on 0300 30 30 333 (option 1) or email

First published 26 January 2018