News story: Summer 2015 GCSE results: a brief explanation

Chart comparing GCSE English/English language entries from 2009 to 2015

Key points

  1. Fewer entries from 15 year-olds (down 65,000 from 2014) and more entries from post-16 students (up 48,000 from 2014).
  2. Overall results for 16 year-olds are stable.
  3. Changes in entry patterns for English/English language mean that the students entering this summer are more able compared to last year. As a result, the proportion achieving A* to C has increased by 3.7 percentage points.


This summer the number of entries for all subjects is relatively stable – up by 1% to 5.3 million (compared with 5.2 million in 2014). The number of entries from 15 year-old students continues to decline: this year it is down by 13% to 425,000.

Entries from 16 year-olds are again very stable at just over 4.5 million. Entries from post-16 students continue to increase – this year up by 18% to just over 310,000.

For all students across the UK, the proportion:

  • achieving A* is down 0.1 percentage points to 6.6%
  • achieving A* and A is down 0.1 percentage points to 21.2%
  • achieving A* to C is up 0.2 percentage points to 69.0%
  • passing (A* to G) is up 0.1 percentage points to 98.6%

This is the fourth consecutive year that the proportion of A* grades and the proportion of A*/A grades had fallen slightly. These small changes reflect changes in the makeup of the overall cohort – in terms of the number of entries and overall ability – but generally show a pattern of stability.

Although the overall entry numbers appear to be stable, in some subjects there has been considerable change in entry patterns. This is likely to be due to schools changing their approaches to teaching and exam entry in response to policy changes, such as changes to performance tables to count only the first entry, and the requirement for students who do not achieve a grade C in English or mathematics to continue to study those subjects. As a result, making comparisons between overall results in summer 2015 and results in summer 2014 is of limited value.

English/English language

The overall entry is similar: 516,000 in 2014 and 521,000 in 2015. However, there have been changes in the make-up of the entries. There are fewer 15 year-olds (down by nearly a third) and more post-16 students (up 23%). 16 year-old students, though, make up the bulk of the entries: 414,000 of the 521,000 entries this summer.

Entry figures for English/English language have fluctuated in recent years, as a result of changes to the qualifications and policy changes. The chart below shows the summer entry numbers 2009 to 2015 together with details of the other changes.

It is worth noting that this academic year is the first in which there was no November entry series for students in England to enter for the first time (the November 2014 series was restricted to students re-taking the qualification). This will have had an impact on the summer results for some schools, if they had previously entered students for the first time in the November series.

As a result of these changes, the make-up of the overall entry has changed. Exam boards use data from key stage 2 (KS2) to predict the likely proportions of students achieving each grade. This year the predicted proportions, for 16 year-olds, were higher than in 2015, suggesting that the students entering English/English language this summer were a more able cohort than those entering English/English language in summer 2014. It is likely that in the 2013 to 2014 academic year, more able students would have been entered in the November series.

Initial analysis of the year-on-year variation at school level shows that the average change in individual results is positive – up 6 percentage points for all students and up 7.5 percentage points for 16 year-old (Year 11) students only. However, given the policy changes and the changes to these qualifications, many schools appear to have changed their entry strategies. When we look only at schools where the number of entries in summer 2015 is similar to the number of entries in summer 2014 (‘stable’ schools) the average variation is only up by 2 percentage points. Not surprisingly, this suggests that schools that have made fewer entry changes have seen less year-on-year variation.

JCQ have published figures comparing the results for 16 year-olds for the whole academic year. This takes account of the fact that in the academic year 2013 to 2014 many schools entered students for the first time in the November series, but schools in England could not do that in 2014 to 2015 academic year. The outcomes for the whole of the academic years are shown below.

2013/14 cum. % 2014/15 cum. %
A* 4.1 3.7
A* & A 17.0 17.4
A* to C 70.1 72.6

The above figures suggest that at least some of the change in the A* to C proportion this summer are due to entry changes. It is likely that the increase in the number of students taking IGCSE English language is also a factor. Entries for the largest IGCSE increased to just over 200,000. As a result the profile of students was different and results at A* to C dropped by just over 1 percentage point.

This is the second year that, for students in England, speaking and listening results are reported separately on a 5 point scale, with 5 being the highest. Grade 3 represents a level of performance where candidates can communicate confidently and flexibly. Further information on the skills students are expected to show is available.

Overall outcomes for 2014 and 2015 are as follows.

Grade 2014 cum. % 2015 cum. %
5 32.4 32.2
4 65.9 63.6
3 87.7 85.6
2 96.7 95.6
1 98.9 98.3


Entries for mathematics have increased, largely as a result of more post-16 students.

As with English, comparing summer 2015 with summer 2014 is of limited value because of changes to entry rules and policy changes. In 2013 to 2014 many schools entered students for the first time in the November series, whereas the November 2014 series was available only to students re-taking the qualification.
In their press release JCQ have compared the results for 16 year-olds for the whole academic year. The outcomes for the whole of the academic years are shown below.

2013/14 cum. % 2014/15 cum. %
A* 6.2 6.7
A* & A 17.5 18.6
A* to C 68.4 69.1

The science subjects

Entries for the separate sciences have dropped this year. However, we also know that entries for IGCSEs and other Level 1/Level 2 certificates commonly referred to as IGCSEs increased. When we add those in, entries for separate science appear to have increased by approximately 2,000.

Outcomes at A*, A and C are reasonably stable for most of the qualifications in this suite:

  • additional science
  • biology
  • chemistry
  • physics

The exception is science, where the proportion of students achieving A* to C has dropped by 2.4 percentage points. Science is taken in roughly equal proportions by 15 year-olds and 16 year-olds: this year there were 175,000 15 year-olds and 208,000 16 year-olds. The drop in the proportion of students achieving A* to C is largely due to 15 year-old students doing worse than in 2014 – the proportion of students aged 15 and under achieving A* to C is down 1.6 percentage points.

We have published separately a document looking at the year-on-year variation for individual schools and colleges in the various science subjects.

This briefing is based on data published by JCQ on Thursday 20 August 2014.

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