In what is an important day for all 15 and 16 year olds, they are finding out the results of their GCSE exams in the aftermath of disruption due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Their results will secure places at sixth form, college or apprenticeships.
But a possible surge in top grades – which were submitted by teachers after exams were cancelled for a second year – could make the job of admissions teams more difficult, it has been suggested.
Last year, more than one in four (26.2 per cent) of UK GCSE entries were awarded one of the three top grades, compared to a fifth (20.8 per cent) in 2019 – the last year that exams were sat before the pandemic.
More than three in four (76.3 per cent) entries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were awarded at least a 4 – which is broadly the equivalent of a C – last year, compared to 67.3 per cent in 2019.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), is expecting pressure to be placed on admissions teams at sixth forms colleges and schools if grades are inflated this summer.
Mr Barton warned that some young people could be “turned away” from courses if centres cannot increase capacity due to limited space and staff.
He added: “I think what we’ll see admissions tutors doing on Thursday, and heads of sixth form, is doing their best to make sure that irrespective of grades a young person moves on to what they had wanted to do in terms of their course and the course best suited to them.
“Because what we don’t want is young people euphoric that they got higher grades than they had hoped for on results day, and then three or four weeks into a new term feeling out of their depth on a course which actually isn’t the appropriate course for them.
“I think there’ll be quite a lot of work going on behind the scenes, sometimes persuading young people and their parents to stick to what their course of action was.”
It has been extra difficult for this crop of students who have had to endure remote learning, self isolation and lockdown amid the Covid-19 pandemic over the last 18 months.
One Black Country headteacher has paid tribute to her GCSE students for their "resilience" during the Covid pandemic.
Due to the Covid pandemic, their exams were cancelled for a second year in a row – and replaced with teacher assessments.
Caroline Sutton, headteacher at Crestwood School in Kingswinford, part of Invictus Education Trust, said: "I am immensely proud of how hard our students have worked. They have demonstrated such resilience over the last 16 months.
“I sincerely hope they attain the grades they deserve.”
It comes as parents could get behind a campaign to scrap GCSE exams permanently if even more top grades are awarded this year, it has been suggested.
It will be hard for ministers to "put the genie back into the bottle" and go ahead with formal exams after two years of teacher assessments, a report has said.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research (CEER) at the University of Buckingham, has suggested more top grades could be awarded to GCSE pupils this summer.
He said: "Plentiful top grades make pupils and parents happy, but they are less helpful for those using the grades for admission to the next stage of education or recruitment to employment."
Professor Smithers added: "With another bumper crop of top GCSE grades, the future of exams at age 16 is likely to come under threat.
"There is already a pressure group to ditch them and if parents get a liking for plentiful top grades they may become involved."
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.
This year, teachers in England submitted their decisions on pupils' grades after drawing on a range of evidence, including mock exams, coursework, and in-class assessments using questions by exam boards.
On Tuesday, the proportion of A-level entries awarded top grades reached an all-time high after exams were cancelled, with 44.8 per cent achieving an A or above.