Brit Stats 2018 – Part 2

GCSE / Key stage 4.

 In Part 2 of his headline analysis of this summer’s UK exam results, Tony Stephens turns his attention to Key Stage 4 (Years 10 & 11) and looks at emerging trends. With a new grading system being established, there’s a lot to think about.

General observations
  • 23 subjects in England are now the using the new 9-1 grading scale, whereas there were only three in 2017
  • A stable set of results overall has emerged, especially for 16 year olds
  • Standards continue to be maintained at key grades A/7, C/4, and G/1, the points at which comparisons across jurisdictions and between reformed and non-reformed GCSE qualifications in England can be made
  • Outcomes are stable at A/7, which are up 0.5 percentage points to 20.5%; at C/4, up 0.5% percentage points to 66.9%; and at G/1, down 0.1 percentage points to 98.3%.
  • There is greater stability for 16 year olds, the target age for GCSE, at A/7 and C/4, with outcomes up 0.4 percentage points each to 21.5% and 69.3% respectively
  • The 5+ pass rate at GCSE this year appears to be 53.2%
  • The huge amount of variation means that Progress measures will change dramatically – and comparisons between last year and this year for Progress 8 are probably not useful
  • A total of 732 pupils who took seven or more GCSEs achieved grade 9s in all of them. 4.5% of all grades were awarded at grade 9
  • The 16 year old population is down 2.7% since 2017
GCSE Entries
  • There has been a small increase in overall entries despite the 2.7% fall in 16 year old population, but there are more significant shifts in specific subjects and other age groups
  • There was a 0.2% increase in the number of GCSE entries in 2018, which rose to 5,470,076
  • Entries for 16 year olds rose by 1.2% to 4,939,124 even though the 16 year old population had dropped by 2.7%.
  • Entries for 17 year olds remained static at 407,349 and are down 26.7% for 15 year olds to 123,603. A new early entry policy in Wales is likely to be the main reason for this decrease in 15 year old entries.
Subject entry trends

At subject level there are significant shifts beneath the headline entry figures, as shown below.

English Language, English Literature and Mathematics

Entry changes (%) between 2017 and 2018 are as folows:

All entries Entries by 16 year olds
English Language -3.6 -2.7
English Literature -1.5 -3.2
Mathematics -3.0 -1.1

Declines in 16 year olds’ entries in these subjects are more or less in line with the drop in the 16 year old population, which was 2.7%, although Mathematics is only down 1.1%.

Changing early entry policies in England and Wales have led to the decline in 15 year olds taking English Language and Mathematics. In England and Wales, schools and colleges are increasingly entering students for their English Literature a year early (up 39.1 %), possibly so they can concentrate on English Language the following year.

Top GCSE subject increases

GCSE entries in the following subjects showed a significant year-on-year rise:

Biology: 23.0%

Chemistry: 18.6%

Physics: 17.2%

Geography: 4.3%

Art & Design subjects: 1.8%

History: 1.7%

Top GCSE subject decreases

By comparison, GCSE entries in the following subjects declined markedly:

Design and Technology:  -23.3%

Religious Studies: -10.1%

English: -3.6%

Mathematics:  -3.0%

French: -2.9%

English Literature: -1.5%

Most popular GCSE subjects

The following were the most popular GCSE subjects in 2018

  • Science: Double Award
  • Mathematics
  • English
  • English Literature
  • History
  • Geography
  • Religious Studies
  • Art and Design subjects
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
Outcomes by gender

 There has been a small closing of the gender gap in the 2018 GCSE results.

All subjects (%) A/7 C/4
Boys 17.2, up 0.8% 62.3, up 0.7%
Girls    23.7, no change 71.4, up 0.3%
Core Subjects (%) A/7 C/4
Eng Lit         Girls 25.8 81
                     Boys 14.1 65.9
Eng Lang     Girls 22.5 78.2
                    Boys 12.6 62.7
Mathematics Girls 19.1 71.6
                    Boys 20.9 70.3
English Literature results

Outcomes in English Literature for all candidates shows a 0.7 percentage point year on year rise at A/7 to 19.9%. At C/4 there is a 0.9 percentage point increase to 73.5% and at G/1 a rise of 0.1 percentage points to 98.3%.

Outcomes for 16 year olds are similar to statistics for all candidates, but there are larger increases for 17 year olds and 15 year olds.

There is some evidence that relatively weaker performers are being entered for English Literature in Year 10.  This means that there is a decline in the number of 16 year-olds entered for English Literature (down 4.1% this year), with only the stronger students remaining, and hence an apparent improvement in results.

English Language results

Outcomes in English Language for all candidates across the UK shows a 0.5 percentage point increase at A/7 to 14.1; a 0.3 percentage point decline at C/4 to 61.8%; and a 0.3 percentage point increase at G/1. Looking at 16 year olds in isolation, male students are performing better and closing the gap on female students and this change is driving up overall outcomes for 16 year olds – up 0.7 percentage points at grade 7 to 17.6%, up 0.3 percentage points at grade 4 to 70.2 %, and up 0.1 percentage points at grade 1 to 99.1%. 


In Mathematics, outcomes rose 0.3 percentage points at A/7 to 15.8%, remained unchanged at C/4 at 59.4% and increased 0.4 percentage points to 97.4% at G/1. Outcomes for 16 year olds were stable, up 0.1 percentage points and 0.2 percentage points at A/7 and C/4 respectively and unchanged at G/1. Outcomes for 15 year olds rose significantly while entries declined by 53.4%. This shows how schools and colleges are entering just their highest performing students for examinations early.


The complexity of previous entry patterns and the change to what students are now studying makes year on year comparisons difficult, but statistics show that outcomes are broadly in line with expectations.


Dual Award Science outcomes
  A/7 C/4 G/1
Double Award Science 16 year olds 2018 2017 2018 2017 2018 2017
7.5 7.9 55.1 55.8 98.1 99

 Ofqual has announced that it had taken the highly unusual step of intervening over the fail grade for GCSE combined science after it found that more candidates than expected were getting an unclassified result. The regulator allowed examiners to look at the work pupils did on the higher tier paper and judged whether it would have been enough to secure them two grade 3s, had they sat the foundation tier paper for the double GCSE.

Single Award Science outcomes

The decline of scores in Dual Award science is probably the result of more able students taking the single sciences.

All three separate Sciences had significant increases in entries: Biology up 23%, Chemistry up 18.6% and Physics up 17.2%.  The total increase in entries was 83,876 and these are most likely to be the students who previously took the three sciences using the entry pattern of Science, Additional Science and Further Additional Science. These new entrants into the separate sciences are performing in a very similar way to the usual cohort, with outcomes very stable year on year.

Modern Foreign Languages

Entries for Modern Foreign Languages were up 0.4%, which should be looked at in the context of the overall population declining by 2.7%.  In 2018, there were just under 300,000 entries for languages and these students performed to a very similar level as in 2017.

Summary of subject results for England (provisional)
% A/7 + C/4 + 5+
Art and design subjects 22.5 74.8 58
Biology 41.4 89.2 78.3
Business studies 17.2 64.1 41.1 achieved grade B+
Chemistry 43.1 89.7 77.8
Citizenship 15.9 65.2 49.4
Computing 20.8 61.4 47.7
Design and technology 17.9 61.2 38.1 achieved grade B+
Drama 23.5 74 59.6
English language 13.9 62 44.6
English literature 19.5 72.9 55.5
Food 16.4 62.3 46.3
French 23.6 69.7 54.1
Geography 23.8 64.6 51.6
German 23.5 75.1 57.9
Health and Social Care 10.6 52.9 28.9 achieved grade B+
History 24.7 63.8 51.9
ICT 16.7 64.4 40 achieved grade B+
Mathematics 15.7 59.7 40.3
Media/film/TV    studies 15.8 64.6 38.7 achieved grade B+
Music 31.1 74.7 62.3
Physical Education 20 70.1 55.2


42.5 90.6 78.5
Religious studies


29.9 71.8 60.4
Double Science 7.4 54.8 33.3
Spanish 27.6 70.4 55.8

Further information

For the full Ofqual – Guide to 2018 GCSE results and links to further information, see:

Although there is little actual 2018 data in addition to the highlights in this summary, the 2018 Guide does include:

2018 GCSE grade Boundaries

Finally, Ofqual has found it difficult to compare grade boundaries between “reformed” and “legacy” GCSEs, and have only compared grade boundaries for the three subjects that were offered in both 2017 and 2018. In these subjects, grade boundaries had increased slightly at Grade 7 and 4.

Tony Stephens is an educational consultant and analyst based in the UK. A highly experienced former head teacher, who has also worked for a number of academy trusts, he specialises in helping UK schools and academies transform their culture and exam performance. 

Tony produces a fortnightly, comprehensive digest of all the latest educational news along with
regular updates of UK-related educational data. He also publishes a range of school
improvement documentation, all of which is available to individuals and schools for an annual
subscription of GBP 60.

Find out more here:


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