24 August 2023

Exam results fall – exploring trends in the UK

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Written by By Martin Reymert, Research Officer

Home > What we do > News and views > Exam results fall – exploring trends in the UK

The annual release of exam results is a pivotal moment in the academic calendar, which reveals the performance and progress of students and schools.  

What was clear from this year’s release of exam results across both England and Scotland was a noticeable fall in results across different grade levels compared to the previous academic year.  

In England, the proportion of pupils receiving a pass grade of 4/C fell from 73% in 2022 to 67.8% this year. For A-levels, the proportion of pupils awarded grades between A* and C, fell from 82.1% in 2022 to 75.4% this year.  

In Scotland, there was a less significant fall, with the proportion of pupils passing National 5s falling from 80.9% in 2022 to 78.9% this year, and pupils awarded an A, B or C at Higher falling from 78.9% in 2022 to 77.1% this year.  

Why have results dropped?  

If we want to understand why we are seeing falling exam results, there are a number of factors that should be considered.  

  • Firstly, while exams were sat by pupils in 2022, several measures were implemented to mitigate the disruptions to their learning that they had experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including allowing formula sheets and increased exam questions to choose from. This resulted in much higher exam results compared to pre-pandemic. However, this year, the majority of pupils were back to the same examination methods as in 2019, which is a contributing factor for the fall in grades we have seen this year. 
  • Secondly, the falling results are also likely to have been impacted by disruption to pupils learning during the pandemic, which was caused by less time in school during the national lockdowns. This has resulted in significant learning loss for many groups, which is likely to have impacted negatively on their exam results. 
  • Finally, we know that both the pandemic and current cost of living crisis is negatively impacting children and young people’s mental health. Since emerging from the pandemic, we are also seeing increased referrals for mental health services with the number of under 18s referred to Child and Adolescent mental Health Services (CAMHS) having risen by 53% since 2019. Not only does this impact on attainment with children often missing school or at times being unable to fully engage, but this year, Headteachers in England reported a record number of pupils absent from exams and a rise in pupils walking out of exams which has been attributed to rising mental health concerns.   

It’s too early to say how disadvantaged pupils have fared compared to their wealthier peers. However, there are causes for concern as much of the reduction in the attainment gap over the last decade has been reversed during the pandemic. 

Breakfast as a solution to improve children and young people’s education  

We know that hunger creates significant barriers to pupils’ learning. According to our ‘What’s for Breakfast’ report, 77% of pupils said they often or sometimes feel hungry in their morning lessons, while 35% of pupils said that they find it difficult to concentrate when they feel hungry.  

Magic Breakfast works to ensure all pupils regardless of their background can reach their academic potential, by providing children at risk of hunger with the fuel they need to learn in the morning.  

Breakfast has proven to have a significant impact on pupils’ ability to learn. Leeds University found that children who regularly eat breakfast achieve, on average, two GCSE grades higher than pupils who don’t regularly eat their morning meal. We are therefore calling on governments in England and Scotland to focus on greater investment in, and recognition of, the important role of school breakfast provision to improve children and young people’s education.  

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This page was last updated on

20 December 2023

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