Royal Society responds to 2023 GCSE results

23 August 2023

Responding to the publication of today’s GCSE results, Professor Ulrike Tillmann, chair of the Royal Society’s Education Committee said: “Congratulations to all students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland receiving GCSE results today. Students have faced significant difficulties over the past few years owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many students will be celebrating the rewards of their hard work, but there will be those who are disappointed. I hope they receive the support from teachers and parents they deserve to plan their next steps.

“It is alarming to see that more than 80% of students aged 17+ taking GCSE maths, many of whom were resitting, did not reach a Grade 4. This is an absolutely heartbreaking statistic and highlights that GCSE may not always be the best option for all students. It is important that all students engage with mathematics to 18 with courses appropriate to their needs and abilities.

“While it is encouraging to see the increases in the number of students taking computing (11.9%) and statistics GCSEs (18.4%), we are concerned that so few female students are choosing these subjects. It is a shame to see the drop in the number of students taking Design and Technology, as it offers opportunities for progression into technical and engineering-based routes.

“We are pleased to see results for vocational qualifications included in the announcement today. This is an important step towards raising the status of these options alongside GCSEs.

“The number of entries for triple science is uneven and dominated by those more likely to be entered for the higher tier. The Royal Society would like to see the government do more to ensure high quality science education is accessible to all students.

“Some reports suggest the difference in grades between disadvantaged peers and their more advantaged peers last year was the widest in 10 years. More needs to be done to address this.

“According to DfE figures more than 75 million lessons for GCSE pupils receiving their results today were taught by non-specialist teachers – 12.2% of maths lessons over this period were taught by teachers with no post-A level qualification in maths.”

The Royal Society has called for an improvement in the support for and status of the teaching workforce by ensuring there is strong supply of expert science, mathematics, and computing teachers. It is concerning the government has failed to reach its teacher training recruitment target for the ninth time in ten years, this year achieving just 59% of their target for secondary teacher trainees across all subjects. In computing this figure is just 35%. Students who are taught by specialist teachers have the best chance of success in their GCSEs and beyond.