Return to pre-pandemic grade boundaries cause turmoil for students

For both GCSE and A-Level students the, now returned, pre-pandemic marking style of 2023 exams has caused a mass lowering of results across the UK.

Sarah Tunstall
11th September 2023
Image Credit: Pixabay

The 17th and 24th of August 2023 (A Level and GCSE results days) caused a lot of turmoil for students planning their next steps within education. With marking and grade boundaries returning to pre-pandemic regulations students were left with lower grades than anticipated.

According to Ofqual, The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation, national results were already expected and announced to be, lower this year on result days. However, though announced beforehand, the day of results left many of the UK’s students saddened. Many of them are having to turn to clearing universities as a chance to get a place for their degree. 

With talk of all of this, what really are grade boundaries and why do they fluctuate per year? The grade boundary is the minimum mark that a student needs to achieve a certain grade. Each exam board differentiates per subject as well as to each other but overall, the boundaries are to ensure consistency in grades from year to year. Grade boundaries are also released as the results are released so students and parents are made aware of where their grades and marking lay in a broader sense. This makes it easier for colleges and universities to ensure their spaces are filled with students promising to reach grade expectations. 

There was and still is a concern for the students who have faced more disruption than others during the pandemic and fall at even more of a disadvantage in marks 

From 2020 to 2022 all exam boards within the UK have taken account of students experiencing the global pandemic in their studies and results. This was all alongside exams being cancelled in 2020 and 2021 where teacher-assessed grades led to a flourish in marks. Thus, grade boundaries were easier to attain for students, and there was more support for students in taking the next step in their education. This year, however, returning to pre-pandemic expectations, the grade boundaries of 2023 have been at higher stakes in comparison to previous years. Dr. Jo Saxton, Chief Regulator of Ofqual, in a statement last year, deemed that “2023 […] will return to pre-pandemic grading as the next step in getting back to normal” but there would be significant protection for the students believed to still be at the source of disruption due to Covid-19. The Association of School and College Leaders ensured a ”safety net” to ensure national grades didn’t fall lower than results in 2019, however, there was and still is a concern for the students who have faced more disruption than others during the pandemic and fall at even more of a disadvantage in marks. 

With all of this in mind, what happened on results day 2023? A-level results were deemed broadly like those in 2019. This still meant however that only 27.2% of the UK achieved an A Grade or above in their results in 2023, one of the most expected grades from universities. With understanding, this pre-pandemic approach has guaranteed employers and universities more awareness of a student’s capabilities. The students who opened their results on the 17th of August this year, experiencing the lower boundary, however, have been left unsure of their next steps and ability to go to university. 

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