North East gets record GCSE grades – but ranks eighth out of nine regions after being ‘decimated’ by Covid

A record number of North East students achieved the top GCSE grades – but the region is languishing near the bottom of the table after being “decimated” by the pandemic.

Thursday’s results saw 24.5% of the region’s pupils achieve grades of 7 and over – a new record and a rise from the 22% who achieved the same grade in 2020.

But while this was the fifth largest increase for any region, the North East ranked eighth out of nine regions in the country for the percentage of students getting the highest grades.

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Schools North East said this “reflected the lack of additional support that region’s schools have received in this period” despite being “hit the hardest by this pandemic ”.

The organisation said North East schools were decimated by positive cases and forced isolations throughout the 2020-21 academic year.

All regions saw increases in absence levels towards the end of the summer term, with the biggest rise in the North East (+7%) and the smallest in the South West (+2%).

Director of Schools North East, Chris Zarraga, said: “Today’s results are a testament to the hard work and dedication of our school staff and their students.

“Schools have worked incredibly hard to ensure that student grades are robust and credible, despite the North East region being one of the hardest hit by the pandemic.”

Students from Kenton School, Newcastle getting their GCSE results,
Students from Kenton School, Newcastle getting their GCSE results,
(Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

“We are incredibly proud of our school staff who have stepped up under unbelievably difficult circumstances.”

But he added: “It must be noted that these results are despite a lack of adequate support for our schools, their staff, and their students.

“It is increasingly a matter of urgency that the Government creates an appropriate education ‘recovery’ plan, that recognises the impact of Covid on our region and supports our schools to move forward confidently and quickly.”

More than 75.5% of the region’s students also achieved grades of 4 or above, a 1.7% increase from last year.

Nationally, the number of pupils in England scoring a clean sweep of the highest grade in their GCSEs increased by more than a third in a year, with more girls achieving straight top grades than boys.

Overall the proportion of GCSE entries awarded the top grades has surged to a record high after exams were cancelled due to Covid-19.

Students from Kenton School, Newcastle getting their GCSE results,
Students from Kenton School, Newcastle getting their GCSE results,
(Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

Hundreds of thousands of youngsters received results determined by their teachers, and nearly three in 10 (28.9%) of UK GCSE entries were awarded the top grades – at least a 7 – this year, up from 26.2% last summer, according to data from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).

In 2019, when exams were last held before the pandemic, only a fifth (20.8%) of entries received a 7 grade or above.

But separate figures, published by exams regulator Ofqual, showed the number of 16-year-olds in England taking at least seven GCSEs achieving a clean sweep of straight 9s – the highest grade available under the numerical grading system – in all subjects has risen by 36% in a year.

Last summer, the fiasco around grading led to thousands of A Level students having their results downgraded from school estimates by a controversial algorithm before Ofqual announced a U-turn.

The proportion of GCSE entries awarded top grades rose to a record high last year after grades were allowed to be based on teachers’ assessments, if they were higher than the moderated grades given, following the U-turn.

Abdul Qureshi, 16, picking up his GCSE results at St Aidan's Academy and got all 9s
Abdul Qureshi, 16, picking up his GCSE results at St Aidan’s Academy and got all 9s

This year, teachers in England submitted their decisions on pupils’ A Level and GCSE grades after drawing on a range of evidence, including mock exams, coursework and in-class assessments using questions by exam boards.

Abdul Qureshi, 16, from St Aidan’s Catholic Academy in Sunderland, was delighted with his results after achieving all 9s.

He said: “Everyone is hoping to get 9s or 8s but I was not expecting all 9s.

“It has been really stressful and you do start questioning yourself but I’m so relieved.

He continued: “It’s quite difficult to get across that you’re not having an exam.

“But we’ve had lots of mocks and tests so it’s been very stressful and tiring.”

Lakshay Miyan’s family travelled to Kenton School to be with their son when he opened his results and were very pleased after he received an 8 in History.

Mum Kabila said: “I’m been excited to see how he’s done. I’ve been teaching him for a year.”

She joked: “I’m very pleased with how my student has done.”

Students from Kenton School, Newcastle getting their GCSE results, Kabila and Lalit Miyan with children Lakshay and Pranay
Students from Kenton School, Newcastle getting their GCSE results, Kabila and Lalit Miyan with children Lakshay and Pranay
(Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

Joanna Lamb, head teacher at Bedlington Academy, said: “This has been a results day like no other. The pandemic has changed the way that this year’s GCSEs and vocational qualifications were assessed, and the students deserve huge credit for their resilience in these circumstances.

“We are so proud of all our students and what they have achieved. We are delighted that so many of our Year 11s are staying with us in Sixth Form next year and we look forward to seeing them flourish in their A Level courses. We wish all of our students well in their futures.”

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Chronicle Live – Sunderland