Academic year 2019/20

Key stage 4 performance

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  1. Changes in 2021 to LA boundaries had affected the map in Figure 6. This has now been reverted back to the correct 2019/20 geography; no data has been changed.

  2. The KS4 subject timeseries data file has been corrected as elements of the 2018/19 subject entry rows for columns containing data on grades 7 to 1 were not showing the correct figures.

  3. In the LAD Disadvantaged and LAD FSM files, corrections were made to all percentage columns with the suffixes ‘_fsm’ and ‘_all_other_fsm’ as the values in the previous versions were calculated using the incorrect denominators.

  4. The links for the Quality and Methodology information guide and for the KS4 2019 publication have been updated.

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the summer exam series was cancelled in 2020 (opens in a new tab). Pupils scheduled to sit GCSE and A/AS level exams in 2020 were awarded either a centre assessment grade (based on what the school or college believed the student 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 GCSE grades awarded to pupils in 2020 will remain with them as they stay on in further and higher education or enter employment after leaving school. However, the cancellation of summer 2020 GCSE exams and the new method of awarding grades has led to a set of pupil attainment statistics that are unlike previous years.

Each of the pupil level attainment statistics have increased - more than would be expected in a typical year - between the 2018/19 and 2019/20 academic years. This reflects the change to the way GCSE grades were awarded rather than improvements in pupil performance. As a result the 2019/20 data should not be directly compared to attainment data from previous years for the purposes of measuring changes in student performance.

Headline facts and figures - 2019/20

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About this release

The 2020 GCSE awards

This release summarises GCSE entries and grades of pupils at the end of key stage 4 (KS4). Figures are available at national, regional, local authority level and some lower level breakdowns such as local authority district and parliamentary constituency.

In March 2020, the Secretary of State announced that the summer 2020 exam series in England would be cancelled to help fight the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). It is also stated that Government will not publish any school or college level educational performance data based on tests, assessments or exams for 2020.

For this summer’s GCSE awards, schools and colleges were asked to provide centre assessment grades for their pupils. The centre assessment grades are those that schools and colleges believed their pupils would have been most likely to achieve if they had sat their exams. These grades then went through a standardisation process developed by Ofqual to produce a calculated grade. In August 2020, the decision was made to award pupils the better of either the centre assessment grade or the calculated grade (known as the final grade). 

The statistics in this release are based on the grades received by pupils as announced on 20th August 2020. They do not reflect any revised grades subsequently awarded as part of an appeals process.

In October and November 2020, there has been an exceptional exam series for GCSEs and A levels to provide another opportunity for pupils who wanted to improve on their final grade, and for pupils who were not able to receive a grade this summer. The results of the autumn GCSE series will be published in January and February 2021. Depending on the impact of these exams on 2020 results the Department will decide whether a further publication is required to update the breakdowns included in this release that are based on grades.

Changes to the traditional pattern of releasing provisional data followed by revised data

In previous years, the Department has published headline statistics in October and more detailed data in the following January. These releases are referred to as the provisional data followed by revised data. The revision process includes amendments made by schools during checking exercises in June and September. However, the schools checking exercise was cancelled in 2020 which means the output does not include any approved school amendments from the checking exercise and therefore, there is no requirement to publish ‘provisional’ and ‘revised’ data. 

So, for 2020, this will be the one statistical release covering GCSE results from the summer. The wide range of pupil characteristics breakdowns of the headline statistics at national, regional and local authority level normally published in previous provisional and revised releases have been incorporated into this one release.  

The statistics covered in this release include only qualifications that count towards the secondary school performance tables[3]. Where schools offer unapproved qualifications, such as unregulated international GCSEs, the grades awarded to pupils for these qualifications are not reflected in this release. This approach is consistent with previous years. However, whilst the coverage of qualifications in these statistics is driven by the secondary school accountability measures included in the performance tables, the Department is not publishing school performance tables, nor any other school level data that uses the 2019/20 GCSE data. As mentioned above, given this year’s exams were cancelled, the Secretary of State announced that the performance tables would be suspended for this year. 

The Progress 8 measure is not being published in 2020

The Department has decided not to include statistics on the Progress 8 measure in this release. The main value of the Progress 8 measure is to compare school performance and school level data is not being published this year. 

The Department has decided it is not appropriate to publish Progress 8 measures because they are normally calculated by comparing a pupil’s actual results to a set of expected results produced by a model based on national averages. The difference between the estimated results and the actual results is described as pupils making more or less progress than expected. However, in 2020 the vast majority of grades awarded were those submitted by schools and colleges. The difference between a result submitted by the centre and a result estimated by a model would have very little meaning. It would not be appropriate to consider such a difference as a measure of the progress made by a pupil.

About this report

This report focuses on the achievements of pupils in state-funded schools. Where data is presented for more than one year, the revised results from 2019 are used and the final (revised data that has been updated with any late changes from schools) data for 2018 and earlier. As stated elsewhere, because the way exam grades were awarded to pupils is very different in 2020, comparisons of pupil attainment over time should not be made to measure changes in pupil performance.


This year, we have changed the way we display data, by reducing the formatted tables we publish in favour of a more accessible format fit for a wider range of users. This new format contains the same amount of information as was provided in previous publications. We welcome feedback on any aspect of this document at (opens in a new tab)


[3] A list of qualifications that count in the secondary school performance tables each year up to 2021 can be found here (opens in a new tab)

2020 headline statistics

In this release we have reported the following KS4 headline statistics for 2020: EBacc entry, attainment in English and maths at grades 5 or above, Average Attainment 8 score per pupil and EBacc Average Point Score (APS). As previously stated, Progress 8 measures are not being published in 2020. For more information, see the secondary accountability guidance (opens in a new tab).

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. (opens in a new tab) 

Attainment in English and maths (grades 5 or above) [4]

This measure looks at the percentage of pupils achieving grade 5 or above in both English and maths GCSEs. To meet the English requirement in 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 

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 (opens in a new tab). (opens in a new tab)

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.

[4] This includes AS-level qualification passes at grades A-E

KS4 entry and achievement

Entry into the EBacc has remained stable

The percentage of pupils entered for all five EBacc components[5] fell very slightly from 40.0% to 39.8% in 2020. Since the introduction of the EBacc in 2010, the latest two years have the highest entry rates. The following chart shows the trend of EBacc entry over the last 11 years[6],[7],[8]. This measure is less likely to have been affected by the cancellation of exams as schools will have taken most of their entry decisions ahead of the COVID-19 disruption.

In 2020, 223,514 (39.8%) pupils were entered for all five EBacc components. Of these, 

  • 57.5% [down from 58.4% in 2019] had high prior attainment at KS2,
  • 30.6% had middle prior attainment,
  • 10.0% had low prior attainment.

The entry rates for middle and low prior attainment groups are very similar to those in 2019, when they were 30.0% and 9.4% respectively.


[5] English, maths, science, a language, and history or geography

[6] Revised data used for latest two years, the rest use final data

[7] 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.

[8] 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. The main driver of this decrease was due to a reduction in entries to EBacc language.

A pupil’s prior attainment is based on their Key Stage 2 results in reading and maths. The overall distribution of pupil performance at Key Stage 2 is then split into three categories: “low” is below level 4, “middle” is level 4 and “high” is above level 4 at Key Stage 2.

87.3% of pupils entered four or more EBacc components

A higher proportion of pupils were entered for four or more components reaching 87.3% in 2020 compared with 86.5% in 2019. 

The proportion of pupils entered for three EBacc components further decreased by 0.7 percentage points from 9.0% to 8.3% between 2019 and 2020 after falling by 1.6 percentage points from 10.6% in 2018 to 9.0%. This is due in part to the increasing percentages of pupils being entered for four or more EBacc components. The percentage of pupils who did not enter any EBacc components was 2.3% and has been similar since 2010. 

Of those pupils who entered four out of the five EBacc components in state-funded schools:

  • 86.9% were missing the languages component in 2020, up from 86.0% in 2019.
  • 12.8% were missing the humanities component in 2020, down from 13.6% in 2019.

The increase in the proportion of pupils receiving higher grades, seen in the published JCQ and Ofqual data, has had a substantial impact on the pupil attainment statistics in 2020.  The increases between 2018/19 and 2019/20 academic years reflect the change to the way GCSE grades were awarded rather than improvements in pupil performance. Therefore, comparisons between 2020 and earlier years are not recommended as they are not indicative of changes in underlying pupil performance. 

English and maths attainment 

In 2020, the proportion of pupils in state-funded schools who achieved a grade 5 or above in English and maths increased from 43.2% in 2019 to 49.9% in 2020. This 6.7 percentage point increase contrasts to a decrease of 0.1 percentage points between 2017/18 and 2018/19. 

The increase is a consequence of the way GCSE grades were awarded in 2020 and the higher proportion of entries graded at 5 and above. For GCSEs in English and maths we see in the Ofqual data published here (opens in a new tab), for 2020:

  • 61.5% of English language GCSE entries were graded at 5 and above (it was 53.4% in 2019).
  • 62.3% of English literature GCSE entries were graded at 5 and above (it was 57.1% in 2019).
  • 57.5% of maths GCSE entries were graded at 5 and above (it was 50.1% in 2019).

Looking at the 2020 results at pupil level and considering the different levels of prior attainment:

  • 83.5% (up from 76.5%) of pupils with high prior attainment achieved a grade 5 or above in English and maths.
  • 31.4% (up from 22.4%) of pupils with middle prior attainment met this threshold, and
  • 2.7% (up from 1.9%) of pupils with low prior attainment met this threshold.

Average Attainment 8 score per pupil 

The average Attainment 8 score has increased from 46.7 to 50.2. This increase is a result of the increased number of pupils with higher grades from this year’s GCSE awarding process.

Figure 4 shows the relative attainment (using the Attainment 8 statistics) of pupils by their characteristics. Compared with the 2019 results we can see whether there has been a change in the relative attainment of each group. In 2020:

  • Girls did better than boys by 5.7 points, a small increase from the difference seen in the previous year, which was 5.5 points.
  • The attainment of disadvantaged pupils is lower than the attainment of non-disadvantaged pupils by 13.5 points, stable compared to the difference in 2018/19 (13.6 points in 2019).
  • The attainment of pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) is lower than the attainment of non-FSM eligible pupils by 13.7 points. This has not changed between 2018/19 and 2019/20.
  • The attainment of pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEN) is lower than the attainment of non-SEN pupils by 23.0 points.
  • The attainment of pupils with English as an additional language (EAL) is very similar to those pupils who have English as their first language.

Despite the changed method for awarding GCSE grades in 2020, the differences in attainment for pupils with specific characteristics have not substantially changed between 2019 and 2020. 

EBacc average points score (APS)

The final approach to awarding grades in 2020 has led to a substantial increase in GCSEs with higher grades, therefore the national EBacc APS score has increased in line with that to 4.38 from 4.07 in 2019. A value of 4.38 means it was, on average, above grade 4.

For wider context, in 2020, the proportion of pupils who achieved all five components of the EBacc at grades 5 or above was 21.3% and the proportion of pupils who achieved all five components of the EBacc at grades 4 or above was 29.8% 

KS4 entry and achievement by pupil characteristics

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 2020, 26.0% of pupils in state-funded schools at the end of key stage 4 were disadvantaged, 0.5 percentage points lower than 2019 (26.5%) and one percentage point lower than in 2018. 

The disadvantage gap index has been created to be a more resilient measure (than the binary category of disadvantage) of changes in disadvantage over time - given the GCSE reforms introduced in 2017 and associated changes to headline measures. 

The disadvantage gap index[9] summarises the relative attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and all other pupils. The index ranks all pupils in the country 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. For key stage 4 it is based on the average grades achieved in English and maths GCSEs.

The gap index is more resilient to changes to grading systems and assessment methods. 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. 

There has been little change in the gap index between 2019 and 2020; it was 3.70 in 2019 and it is 3.66 in 2020.  

[9] More details of the methodology and consultation were published in SFR 40/2014

[10] Further breakdowns of average English and maths grades for disadvantaged and all other pupils can be found in the National characteristics data accompanying this release. 

Attainment by disadvantage

In 2020, 26.0% of pupils at the end of key stage 4 are recorded as disadvantaged compared with 26.5% of pupils in 2019.

Attainment was lower for disadvantaged pupils compared to all other pupils across all headline measures in 2020. The patterns are the same (for the differences between disadvantaged pupils and non-disadvantaged pupils when considering Attainment 8 and the EBacc APS). The difference for EBacc entry has narrowed slightly and it has increased slightly for the English and maths at grades 9-5 measure (reflecting the higher graded results received this year). 

English as a first 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. 

16.9% of pupils at the end of key stage 4[11]  had a first language other than English in 2020, slightly higher than in 2019 (16.7%).

Pupils with English as an additional language received higher grades than pupils with English as their first language across all headline measures except in achieving English and maths at grades 5 or above (where there is almost no difference between the two groups of pupils). In 2020, the difference between pupils with English as an additional language and those who speak English has; increased for the EBacc entry measure (with a small reduction in the entry rate for English speakers), narrowed for the English and maths at grades 5 or above and the Attainment 8 measures, and remained stable for the EBacc APS measure.

[11] Excluding pupils whose first language is unclassified

Special Educational Needs (SEN) 

The SEN variable 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.

14.7% of pupils at the end of key stage 4 had a special educational need in 2020 compared to 14.2% in 2019.

The attainment difference between pupils with SEN compared to pupils with no identified SEN remains the largest difference of all pupil characteristics groups. Pupils with SEN perform markedly worse than pupils with no identified SEN across all headline measures of attainment. In 2020, the difference in EBacc entry remained stable, however the difference between SEN and non-SEN pupils has increased for each attainment measure, with the difference increasing the most for the ‘achieving English and maths at grades 9-5’ statistic.  


White pupils made up 74.1% of pupils at the end of key stage 4 in 2020, 10.9% were Asian, 5.9% were Black, 5.2% were Mixed, 0.3% were Chinese.[12][13]

EBacc entry decreased for White pupils, was static for pupils from the Mixed ethnic group and increased for the other three major ethnic groups. For the attainment statistics all major ethnic groups have seen increases – which is due to the way GCSE grades were awarded in 2020 – and the ordering of the categories remains the same e.g. Pupils from the Chinese and Asian ethnic major groups do better than the remaining groups with pupils from the Black ethnic major group having the lowest attainment on average. 

[12] Remaining pupils were either unclassified or from any other ethnic background

[13] Please note the much lower cohort size for Chinese pupils in comparison to the other major ethnic groupings when drawing conclusions from this data


As in previous years, girls continue to do better than boys across all headline measures. Source: Key stage 4 attainment data 

With the exception of the EBacc entry rate (which has remained the same) the differences in the headline measures between boys and girls in 2020 has widened in favour of girls across each of the attainment measures. 

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.  

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 6). This is similar to patterns seen in recent years. 

Further information is available

School level figures  School level data using the 2020 GCSE results are not being published. School level data for the 2018/19 academic year is the latest available data and can be found in the performance tables.
Characteristics breakdowns Characteristics breakdowns are included in this release. 
Previously published figures

Key stage 4 performance, 2019 (revised)

Key stage 4 performance, 2019 (provisional)

Attainment for other key stages 

Data on other key stages can be found at the following links: 

Early years foundation stage profile 

Key stage 1 

Key stage 2 

16-19 attainment 

Destination measures 

Figures for young people who went into education, employment or training destinations the year after they completed key stage 4 or key stage 5 can be found at the following link: 

Destinations of key stage 4 and key stage 5 pupils 

Attainment in Wales, 

Scotland and Northern 


Information on educational attainment for secondary schools in Wales is available from the Welsh Government website.

Information on educational attainment for secondary schools in Scotland is available from the Scottish Government website.

Information on educational attainment for secondary schools in Northern Ireland is available from the Department for Education Northern Ireland (DENI) website.

Information published by Ofqual 

The following paragraphs describe the situation in previous years. Arrangements for 2019/20 are described in this release. Exam boards use a combination of expert judgement and statistics to set grade boundaries. Ofqual monitors the maintenance of standards of each qualification over time so that they are fair for all students – between exam boards in a subject, as well as from year to year. Statistics involve predictions based on the cohort’s prior attainment. For GCSE, exam boards use predictions based on the cohort’s prior achievement at key stage 2. Further information on how grades are set for GCSEs can be found here

Ofqual has also published information on variability in GCSEs for schools and colleges, which is available here

Sponsored academy performanceInformation on the complexities of comparing sponsored academies data over time is available here

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Find out how and why we collect, process and publish these statistics.

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Contact us

If you have a specific enquiry about Key stage 4 performance statistics and data:

Attainment statistics team

Contact name: Liam Hamilton

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