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Academic Year 2020/21
Key stage 4 performance
This is the latest dataNational statistics
See all updates (4) for Academic Year 2020/21
The KS4 local authority characteristics data file has been updated to include 'Other' and 'Unclassified' ethnic major categories. Rounding errors have also been corrected.
New data file has been uploaded: KS4 entries by prior attainment band and disadvantage status.
The KS4 national data file has been amended as the arts entries indicators for the 2020/21 time period did not include the correct arts subjects.
The KS4 subject timeseries data file has been corrected to include data on five subjects (Arabic, Chinese, Italian, Polish and Urdu) which were incorrectly grouped together under 'Other modern languages' for the 2019/20 time period.
The KS4 subject timeseries data file has been amended as Latin was missed from the 2020/21 time period.
The KS4 subject entry level data file has been corrected as the column containing data on grade 7s were not showing the correct figures.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the summer exam series for the 2020/21 academic year was cancelled.
Instead, for 2020/21, pupils were only assessed on the content they had been taught for each course. Schools were given flexibility to decide how to assess their pupils’ performance, for example, through mock exams, class tests, and non-exam assessment already completed. GCSE grades were then determined by teachers based on the range of evidence available and they are referred to as teacher-assessed grades, or TAGs.
This is a different process to that of 2019/20 when pupils were awarded either a centre assessment grade (known as CAGs, based on what the school or college believed the pupil would most likely have achieved had exams gone ahead) or their calculated grade using a model developed by Ofqual - whichever was the higher of the two.
The changes to the way GCSE grades have been awarded over the last two years (with CAGs and TAGs replacing exams) mean 2020/21 pupil attainment data should not be directly compared to pupil attainment data from previous years for the purposes of measuring year on year changes in pupil performance.
Headline facts and figures - 2020/21
Explore data and files
All data used in this release is available as open data for download
This release summarises GCSE entries and grades awarded to pupils at the end of KS4 in summer 2021. Figures are published at national, regional and local authority level with some lower level breakdowns such as local authority district and parliamentary constituency.
In March 2020, the Secretary of State for Education in England announced that the summer 2020 exam series in England would be cancelled to help fight the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). The government subsequently confirmed that school and college performance tables would not go ahead in summer 2021. This confirmed that school and college performance tables in autumn 2021 would not contain school/pupil attainment data and that the results of the summer 2021 exams would not be used to hold schools and colleges to account.
In January 2021, the Secretary of State confirmed that learners taking GCSEs in summer 2021 should be awarded grades based on an assessment by their teachers. Teachers were asked to base their judgements on a range of evidence of each learner’s performance in each subject, but only on content they had been taught. When determining the grade, teachers were asked to reflect the standard at which the learner was performing. This is different from 2020 when centres/schools were asked to determine a grade based on their judgement of what learners would likely have achieved if they had completed examinations. Further information about the awarding process in England can be accessed from the information published by Ofqual in July 2021 here.
The statistics in this release are based on the grades received by pupils as announced on 12th August 2021. The exam grades have been matched to pupils to enable pupil level analyses. The GCSE grades awarded in the summer of 2021 were higher than in both previous years and as a result these higher grades will impact on the headline measures for pupil attainment in 2020/21.
GCSE grades awarded in summer 2021 and published in August
The national GCSE results for the 2020/21 academic year and awarded to pupils in August 2021 were published here by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) and the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) published further analysis here. The statistics in these publications show the how grades have been affected by the awarding process. Within the data published by Ofqual is information on GCSE grades achieved by 16-year olds in England which show that, for all subjects, in 2021:
the percentage of GCSE entries graded at 4 and above was 79.1%. This is an increase of 0.3 percentage points compared with 2019/20 (78.8%); and a 9.2 percentage point increase on the equivalent 2018/19 figure (69.9%).
the percentage of GCSE entries graded at 7 and above was 30.0%, an increase of 2.5 percentage points compared with 2019/20 (27.5%); and an 8.2 percentage point increase on the equivalent 2018/19 figure (21.8%).
The JCQ and Ofqual data is at exam entry level and uses the age 16 definition which is slightly different to the ‘end of Key Stage 4’ definition used throughout this statistical release. However, this data is still useful in this context as it helps demonstrate the large increases in higher grades received by pupils during 2020 and 2021 that filter through to higher levels of attainment at pupil level.
About this statistical release
The purpose of this statistical release is to maintain the continuity of information. The GCSE grades awarded to pupils in the form of CAGs and TAGs will remain with them as they stay on in further and higher education or enter employment after leaving school. It is important to maintain transparency by presenting the national level data for these cohorts of pupils whilst recognising the extraordinary circumstances in which their qualifications have been awarded.
This statistical release is based on pupil level attainment data of pupils in state-funded schools which is created by matching the summer exam results to the individual pupils. This allows analysis at pupil level and by pupil characteristics. In the 2019/20 and 2020/21 academic years all pupils awarded GCSE grades had studied reformed GCSE specifications and received numbered grades (9 to 1). Information on the reform process is contained with the Secondary accountability guidance.
Where time series data is presented it uses the latest 2020/21 results, the published results from 2019/20 and the final data for 2018/19 and earlier years (final data includes small amounts of pupils' exam results from the winter series of exams as well as any late changes from schools). However, as stated, the cancellation of exams and the substantially changed methods for awarding GCSE grades has impacted greatly on the results.
The increases seen in the headline attainment statistics likely reflect the changed method for awarding grades rather than demonstrating a step change improvement in standards.
Which KS4 headline measures are being reported on?
Description of the Key Stage 4 headline measures
In this release we have reported on the following Key Stage 4 headline statistics:
percentage of pupils entering the full EBacc combination of qualifications.
the percentage of pupils attaining grades 5 or above in both English and maths.
the average Attainment 8 score per pupil.
the EBacc Average Point Score (APS) per pupil.
as previously stated, Progress 8 (and associated breakdown) measures are not being published in 2021.
The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) entry
The EBacc shows how many pupils are entering GCSEs (or AS level qualifications) in core academic subjects at KS4. The EBacc consists of English, maths, science, a language, and history or geography. To count in the EBacc, qualifications must be on the English Baccalaureate list of qualifications.
Attainment in English and maths at grade 5 or above
This measure looks at the percentage of pupils achieving grade 5 or above in both English and maths GCSEs. To count for this measure a pupil would have to achieve a grade 5 or above in either English literature or English language. There is no requirement to sit both.
Attainment 8 measures the average achievement of pupils in up to 8 qualifications. This includes: English language; English literature (if only one GCSE in English is taken then it is double weighted); maths (double weighted); three further qualifications that count in the English Baccalaureate (EBacc); and three further qualifications that can be GCSE qualifications (including EBacc subjects) or any other non-GCSE qualifications on the DfE approved list.
From 2018, Attainment 8 had a maximum point score of 90, compared to a maximum of 87 in 2017 and 80 in 2016. This is a consequence of the phased introduction of reformed GCSEs graded on the 9-1 scale. These differences should be considered when comparing Attainment 8 scores between 2016-2019.
EBacc average point score (EBacc APS)
The EBacc APS measures pupils’ point scores across the five pillars of the EBacc - English, maths, science, a language, and history or geography – with a zero for any missing pillars. This ensures the attainment of all pupils is recognised, not just those at particular grade boundaries, encouraging schools to enter pupils of all abilities, and support them to achieve their full potential.
There has been a change to the way pupils are allocated to Key Stage 2 prior attainment groups
In 2016, changes were introduced to KS2 national curriculum tests, with pupil outcomes expressed as KS2 scaled scores instead of national curriculum levels. A pupil’s prior attainment at KS4 is now calculated as the average of their scaled scores in English reading and maths. Most pupils who took national curriculum tests in the summer 2016 have reached the end of KS4 in 2020/21. Thus, the way in which low, middle and high prior attainment are defined at KS4 has changed. This has an impact on the comparability over time.
Within this statistical release the new categories are calculated in the following way:
Low prior attainers have an average scaled score (average of their English reading and maths scaled scores) of below 100.
Middle prior attainers have an average scaled score greater than or equal to 100 but less than 110.
High prior attainers have an average scaled score greater than or equal to 110.
The table shows there are fewer pupils in the higher prior attainment group. In 2020/21, 15.4% of the KS4 cohort, with both KS2 and KS4 results available, were in the higher KS2 prior attainment group compared with 42.8% in 2019/20.
The size of the middle KS2 prior attainment group has grown from 45.7% in 2019/20 to 52.4% in 2020/21. Consequently, the percentage of pupils in the low KS2 prior attainment group is much higher, 32.2% in 2020/21 compared with 11.4% in 2019/20.
Further details on EBacc entry by prior attainment is in Figure 2/Table 3 and data on pupils' attainment by prior attainment is covered in Table 13.
The percentage of pupils entering the full EBacc has fallen slightly over the last year but has remained broadly stable since 2013/14
The percentage of pupils entered for all five EBacc components (English, maths, a science, a language, and either history or geography) has fallen from 40.0% in 2018/19 to 39.8% in 2019/20 and to 38.7% in 2020/21. This is the second year in a row where the EBacc entry rate has fallen.
Figure 1 and Table 2 shows the EBacc entry rate over the last 12 academic years. After initial increases between 2009/10 and 2013/14 the EBacc entry rate has been stable, at around 38% to 40%, since 2013/14.
In 2012/13, EBacc entry rose due to a large increase in the proportion of pupils at the end of KS4 entered for humanities (up 10.9 percentage points to 60.2%) and languages (up 8.7 percentage points to 47.6%). This likely came about due to a change in school behaviour as this data contained the first cohort to fully complete key stage 4 following the introduction of the EBacc.
In 2017, EBacc entry figures are also likely to have been impacted by over 30,000 pupils continuing to be entered solely for unreformed English and maths GCSEs, despite these qualifications not counting in performance tables in that year. However, the main driver of this decrease was due to a reduction in entries to EBacc language.
Subject entries may have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancellation of most exams and assessments in 2019/20 and 2020/21.
EBacc entry by prior attainment - pupils with higher prior attainment were more likely to enter the full EBacc
A pupil’s prior attainment is based on their KS2 results in reading and maths and the overall distribution of pupil performance at KS2 is split into three categories: low, middle and high prior attainment.
As previously set out, the way the prior attainment groups are calculated has changed in 2021 due to the introduction of KS2 scaled scores in 2016. This change has had an impact on the number of pupils in each prior attainment group (with fewer pupils in the high prior attainment group and more pupils in the middle and lower prior attainment groups) and means that comparisons with previous years are not possible.
In the 2020/21 academic year, 38.7% of pupils (222,859 pupils out of 575,863) were entered for all five EBacc components. Pupils with higher prior attainment were more likely to enter all five EBacc components:
67.6% of pupils with high prior attainment at KS2 entered all five EBacc components.
43.5% of pupils with middle prior attainment entered all five EBacc components.
17.6% of pupils with low prior attainment entered all five EBacc components.
87.7% of pupils entered four or more EBacc components
A slightly higher proportion of pupils were entered for four or more components in 2020/21; 87.7% compared with 87.3% in 2019/20 (and 86.5% in 2018/19).
Of those pupils who entered four out of the five EBacc components in state-funded schools:
87.3% were missing the languages component in 2020/21, up from 86.9% in 2019/20 and 86.0% in 2018/19.
12.4% were missing the humanities component in 2020/21, down from 12.8% in 2019/20 and 13.6% in 2018/19.
Figure 4 goes on to show the time series for pupils entering the science, humanities and language pillars. Between 2009/10 and 2013/14, there were gradual increases in the proportions entering these pillars with more pupils entering sciences followed by humanities and then languages.
From 2013/14 onwards, the percentage of pupils entering sciences and humanities has increased considerably. However, the percentage of pupils entering languages has steadily decreased from 50.5% in 2013/14 to 45.0% in 2020/21.
Attainment in the individual EBacc pillars is highest in English
The approach to awarding GCSE grades in 2019/20 and 2020/21 has led to substantial increases in GCSEs with higher grades, therefore the national EBacc APS score has increased in line with that to 4.45 (in 2020/21) from 4.38 in 2019/20 and 4.07 in 2018/19.
A value of 4.45 for the EBacc APS means it was, on average, above grade 4 and has increased by 0.38 points between 2018/19 and 2020/21. The increase is the equivalent of 4/10ths of a grade.
For the individual EBacc pillars, over the last three years, attainment has been highest in English, then maths, followed by sciences, humanities and the lowest attainment is in languages. In 2020/21, the gap between the EBacc English APS and the EBacc Languages APS is 2.78 points (a difference of almost three grades). This difference has increased from 2.68 points to 2.78 points between 2018/19 and 2020/21.
For wider context, in 2020/21, the proportion of pupils who achieved all five components of the EBacc at grades 5 or above was 21.5% (the equivalent figures for 2019/20 and 2018/19 were 21.3% and 17.1% respectively). The proportion of pupils who achieved all five components of the EBacc at grades 4 or above was 29.5% (the equivalent figures for 2019/20 and 2018/19 were 29.8% and 24.9% respectively).
Further information is available in the downloadable files that shows the distribution of individual grades and the average attainment (e.g. the percentage of pupils achieving grades 9-4 and equivalents) in specific GCSE subjects over time. In addition, Transition Matrices are also available to download that show, for individual GCSE subjects, the grades achieved by pupils entering that subject in 2020/21 broken down by detailed prior attainment and pupil characteristics. An example Transition Matrix for pupils entering French GCSE in 2020/21 is here: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/data-tables/fast-track/213e0872-5db0-4642-8405-4a652e5dbe04
KS4/GCSE attainment: headline measures broken down by pupil characteristics
Comparing KS4 headline measures over time
The time series data for the main KS4 headline measures are shown in Table 1. The attainment measures have been affected by the cancellation of GCSE exams for the 2019/20 and 2020/21 academic years and by their replacement with centre assessment grades and teacher assessed grades.
Therefore, comparisons between results awarded in 2021, 2020 and earlier years are not recommended as the increases seen in the headline statistics likely reflect the changed method for awarding grades rather than demonstrating a step change improvement in standards.
Whilst it is not possible to compare pupil attainment across years to detect improvements in pupil performance, the data can show whether attainment gaps for pupils with particular characteristics have changed between years.
The next sections provide data on EBacc entry and the headline attainment measures by various pupil characteristics (e.g. by disadvantage status, first language, special educational needs, gender, ethnicity and prior attainment) for the latest three years to identify any changes in the attainment gap.
KS4 Attainment focussing on disadvantage pupils
In 2020/21, 26.4% of pupils at the end of key stage 4 in state-funded schools were recorded as disadvantaged compared with 26.0% in 2019/20 and 26.5% of pupils in 2018/19.
Pupils are defined as disadvantaged if they are known to have been eligible for free school meals at any point in the past six years (from year 6 to year 11), if they are recorded as having been looked after for at least one day or if they are recorded as having been adopted from care.
Entry to EBacc and attainment across each headline measure was lower for disadvantaged pupils compared to all other pupils in 2021.
The attainment gap, for the differences between disadvantaged pupils and non-disadvantaged pupils, has increased when comparing 2018/19 exam data with 2020/21 TAG data for both the percentage achieving grades 5 and above in English and maths and average Attainment 8. Table 7 shows:
for the percentage of pupils achieving grades 5 and above in English and maths the gap has widened from 25.2 percentage points to 27.5 percentage points.
the average Attainment 8 gap has widened from 13.6 points to 14.4 points.
the gap remains at 1.4 points for the EBacc APS
and the gap has narrowed for the rate of entry to the full EBacc; from 17.0 percentage points to 15.9 percentage points.
Further information on how well disadvantaged pupils achieve compared to non-disadvantaged pupils is available in the section on the Disadvantaged Gap Index - which is a measure that is more robust over time and contains a time series from 2009/10.
KS4 Attainment focussing on pupils with English as an additional language
“First language” is the language to which a child was initially exposed during early development and continues to be exposed to in the home or in the community. Being a pupil whose first language is other than English does not mean that the pupil is necessarily fluent in a language other than English or cannot speak English.
In 2020/21, 17.0% of pupils at the end of KS4 in state-funded schools had a first language other than English (excluding those pupils whose first language is unclassified). This measure has seen a small but gradual increase over the last few year e.g. it was 16.9% in 2019/20 and 16.7% in 2018/19.
Over the last three years pupils with English as an additional language (EAL) have had slightly better attainment than pupils with English as their first language (Non EAL) across all the headline measures.
Comparing 2018/19 exam data with 2020/21 TAG data, the gaps in attainment between EAL and non EAL pupils have shown only small changes. For example:
for the percentage achieving grades 5 and above in English and maths the gap has widened from 0.6 percentage points to 0.9 percentage points.
the average Attainment 8 gap has widened from 1.0 points to 1.3 points.
the gap has increased from 0.2 points to 0.3 points for the EBacc APS.
the gap has increased for the rate of entry to the full EBacc; from 11.2 percentage points to 12.3 percentage points.
KS4 Attainment focussing on pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEN)
The SEN category indicates whether a pupil has learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn than most children of the same age. Pupils with special educational needs include those with SEN support or an education, health and care (EHC) plan. More information on these is given in the methodology document.
In 2020/21, 15.2% of pupils at the end of key stage 4 in state-funded schools had a special educational need compared with 14.7% in 2019/20 and 14.2% in 2018/19.
Over the last three years pupils with SEN have had significantly lower attainment than pupils without SEN across all the headline measures.
Comparing 2018/19 exam data with 2020/21 TAG data, the gaps in attainment between SEN and non SEN pupils have shown the following changes:
the gap for the percentage achieving grades 5 and above in English and maths has widened from 34.4 percentage points to 39.7 percentage points. The vast majority of this gap is due to the change between 2018/19 and 2019/20 - where it widened from 34.4 to 39.0.
the average Attainment 8 gap has widened from 22.3 points to 23.4 points and the EBacc APS gap has widened from 2.2 points to 2.3 points.
the gap has decreased for the rate of entry to the full EBacc; from 31.0 percentage points to 29.6 percentage points.
KS4 Attainment focussing on pupils by ethnicity
In 2020/21, pupils from the White ethnic category made up 74.6% of pupils at the end of key stage 4 in state-funded schools (of those where ethnicity data was provided). 11.3% of pupils were from the Asian ethnic category, 6.2% were from the Black ethnic category, 5.6% were from the Mixed ethnic category, 0.4% were from the Chinese ethnic category and 2.0% were from Other ethnic categories.
With the national EBacc entry rate decreasing by 1.3 percentage points (between 2019/20 and 2020/21) pupils from both the Mixed ethnic category and the White ethnic category saw the largest decreases; 2.5 percentage points and 1.8 percentage points respectively.
For the attainment statistics all major ethnic groups have seen increases between 2018/19 and 2020/21 – which is due to the way GCSE grades were awarded in 2020 and 2021. However, during that period pupils from the Black ethnic category saw the largest increases.
For example, pupils from the Black ethnic category had the largest increase for percentage achieving English and maths at grades 5 and above (11.1 percentage points higher than 2018/19) and for the average Attainment 8 (5.1 points higher than 2018/19).
In 2020/21, 49.0% of pupils at the end of key stage 4 in state-funded schools were girls and 51.0% were boys. This remains unchanged over the last three years. As in previous years, more girls enter the full EBacc than boys and girls continue to do better than boys across all headline attainment measures.
Comparing 2018/19 exam data with 2020/21 TAG data, the gaps in attainment between girls and boys have shown the following changes:
the gap for the percentage achieving grades 5 and above in English and maths has widened from 6.6 percentage points to 7.6 percentage points (although comparing to 2019/20 the gaps has reduced from 8.2 percentage points to 7.6 percentage points).
the average Attainment 8 gap has widened slightly from 5.5 points to 5.8 points and the EBacc APS gap has also widened from 0.48 to 0.52.
the gap has narrowed for the rate of entry to the full EBacc; from 11.6 percentage points to 10.6 percentage points.
KS4 Attainment by Key Stage 2 prior attainment
The calculation for the prior attainment categories has changed between between 2019/20 and 2020/21 - as a consequence of the introduction of Key Stage 2 scaled scores in 2016. As discussed earlier, the introduction of KS2 scaled scores has had an impact on the distribution of pupils by prior attainment. In summary, the impact has been to reduce the number of pupils in the high prior attainment group and increase the number of pupils in the low and middle prior attainment groups.
This means that caution is required when comparing the results over time. The changes seen will be driven by a combination of the changed prior attainment distribution and the impact of the TAGs.
The following table shows the headline measures by KS2 prior attainment over the last three years. Pupils with high prior attainment continue to have better attainment levels than those pupils in the middle prior attainment group and much better attainment levels than those pupils in the low prior attainment group - across all the headline measures.
Comparing 2018/19 exam data with 2020/21 TAG data, the gaps in attainment between pupils in the high prior attainment category and pupils in the low prior attainment category have shown the following changes:
the gap for the percentage achieving grades 5 and above in English and maths has widened from 74.6 percentage points to 80.4 percentage points (the 2018/19 to 2019/20 equivalent gap was 80.8 percentage points).
the average Attainment 8 gap has increased by 0.2 points (the gap has narrowed slightly between 2019/20 and 2020/21) from 39.7 points to 39.9 points.
the EBacc APS gap has also increased by 0.2 points from 3.9 points to 4.1 points.
the gap has increased for the rate of entry to the full EBacc; from 49.0 percentage points to 50.0 percentage points (having narrowed to 47.5 percentage points between 2018/19 and 2019/20).
Pupil attainment levels by local authority varies considerably
Pupil attainment varies considerably across the country. The variation in EBacc entry and the headline attainment statistics by local authority is shown in the following table.
% entering EBacc
49.2 percentage points
% achieving 5 or above in English and Maths
45.4 percentage points
Average attainment 8 score per pupil
EBacc average point score
The local authorities with the highest pupil attainment averages tend to be concentrated in London and the south with the majority of the local authorities with the lowest pupil attainment averages located in the northern and midland regions (as shown in the map in figure 5). This is similar to patterns seen in recent years.
Disadvantaged pupils and the disadvantage gap index
Pupils are defined as disadvantaged if they are known to have been eligible for free school meals at any point in the past six years (from year 6 to year 11), if they are recorded as having been looked after for at least one day or if they are recorded as having been adopted from care.
In 2021, 26.4% of pupils at the end of key stage 4 are recorded as disadvantaged compared with 26.0% in 2019/20 and 26.5% of pupils in 2018/19.
In terms of the disadvantaged gap index, it has widened to 3.79 in 2021 compared with 3.66 in 2019/20 and 3.7 in 2018/19. The widening of the disadvantaged gap index may reflect the difficult circumstances that many pupils will have experienced over the last academic year which saw various restrictions put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g. periods of lockdowns and tiers) that resulted in restricted attendance to schools and periods of home learning.
The disadvantage gap index has been created to be a more resilient measure (than the binary category of disadvantage) of changes over time in attainment that may have been affected by, for example, the GCSE reforms introduced in 2017 and associated changes to headline measures (e.g. moving away from 5 or more GCSEs to average Attainment 8 scores).
The disadvantage gap index summarises the relative attainment gap (based on the average grades achieved in English and maths GCSEs) between disadvantaged pupils and all other pupils. The index ranks all pupils in state-funded schools in England and asks whether disadvantaged pupils typically rank lower than non-disadvantaged pupils. A disadvantage gap of zero would indicate that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds perform as well as pupils from non-disadvantaged backgrounds. We measure whether the disadvantage gap is getting larger or smaller over time.
Whilst the absolute differences (in English and maths GCSE grades) may differ between years the gap index measures results in terms of how disadvantaged pupils are ranked in comparison to non-disadvantage pupils therefore it offers greater comparability between years.
More details regarding the methodology and the consultation were published in SFR 40/2014.