Comparing GCSE entry and success rates

In 2015-16 the funding regulation came into force which demanded that all 16-18 year olds on study programmes who had previously attained a grade D in GCSE maths or English re-sit these qualifications.  Ofsted’s detailed analysis of summer 2016 GCSE results are summarised in fig. 1 below.  (Note: data include both 16-18 year olds and adults, and are drawn from across all sectors, including FE colleges, schools and sixth form colleges)


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Key points to note:

  • There was an increase of about one-third from 2015 in entries for both GCSE English and maths, presumably on account of changes in 16-18 funding regulations.
  • The A*-C success rate fell from 35% to 27% for English, and from 36% to 30% for maths.  (Note: Although data are not yet published, the percentage falls for 16-18 year olds in isolation are likely to be significantly higher than this.)
  • The overall number of post 16 students achieving a GCSE A*-C for English has remained pretty much static, while for GCSE maths there has been a modest increase of 4,400 in the number of students achieving, representing a 9.5% increase compared to 2015).
  • It appears, therefore, that the increase in entries in 2016 has largely been negated by  lower success rates.

More detailed data are available for previous years GCSE results in the Department for Education’s Level 1 and 2 attainment in English and maths by students aged 16-18: academic year 2014/15, published in May 2016.  This provides an analysis of trends in 16-18 GCSE entries and achievement by type type of provide for entries up until summer 2015. Data tables are also available showing the performance of individual organisations, enabling colleges to compare themselves with similar organisations regionally and nationally.

GCSE English

Fig. 2 to 4 show the trends in entries, success rates and the number achieving GCSE English between 2012/13 and 2014/15.

fig2-english-entries  fig3-english-success-rates  fig4-english-achievements

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Key points to note:

  • a 156% increase in the number of GCSE English entries over the 3 year period 2012-13 to 2014/15, with more modest increases for schools and sixth-form colleges.
  • a small rise in success rates in FE colleges over the same period, from 31% to 35%, with more significant increases in schools and FE college.
  • An overall increase of 68% in English A*-C achievements in FE colleges – or almost 7,000 additional A*-C qualifications.

GCSE maths

Fig. 5 to 7 show the trends in entries, success rates and the number achieving GCSE maths between 2012/13 and 2014/15.

fig5-maths-entries  fig6-maths-success-rates  fig7-maths-achievements

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Key points to note:

  • Compared to English, a more modest 58% increase in 16-18 GCSE maths entries between 2012/13 and 2014/15 – with the main increase (48%) happening in 2014/15.
  • A year-on-year drop in success rates for GCSE rates – from 36% in 2012/13 to 26% in 2014/15.  A similar trend is evident in schools and sixth-form colleges.
  • The drop in success rates largely negated the increased entries from FE colleges, with only about 400 extra maths A*-C achievements in 2014/15 compared to 2012/13.

Grade attainment & grade movement

Fig. 8 provides a breakdown of grades achieved for all 16-18 year olds resits in 2014-15.  This reveals that about 5% of English entrants achieved a grade B or higher, with a corresponding figure of only 1.4% for maths (presumably because most maths resits are entered for the foundation tier – allowing a maximum grade of C).


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Fig. 9 shows the proportion of 16-18 students who achieved a GCSE A*-C according to their prior attainment.  This suggests that few learners with a prior attainment of grade E are likely to move up to a grade C or above in a single year – only 10% for maths and 22% for English.  So even over a two year programme it seems unlikely that many students entering college with a grade E in maths will achieve a C by the end of their course.


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