Across the UK and beyond, many young people today have received their assessment grades – a ‘final’ snapshot of their 11-16 learning journey. We want to congratulate everyone, all nations, subjects and sectors. Your achievements in education in this time of change and churn – a pandemic, a cost-of-living crisis and in England since 2018, four different prime ministers – are phenomenal.
This year, exam regulators have asked for boards to bring their grades closer in line with pre-Covid levels – needless to say, NSEAD does not believe the class of 2023 have experienced anything like the education of students who completed their examinations four years ago. The impact of world events, inequities in the education system have continued and in some cases been made worse.
We want to hear from our members. What are your experiences this year? We are holding a member-only examinations event in the Autumn term and are keen to build a UK-wide picture of what has been happening in schools, communities and localities, regions and nations. This is what we know:
Key 2023 trends and changes summary
- This year, the number of art and design GCSE entries have fallen in England, Northern Ireland and Wales combined by 3.6% (from 205,657, to 198,302).
- The proportion of art and design entries has fallen too. Of the overall total GCSEs sat, art and design was 3.6% in 2022. This year (2023) art and design is 3.4% of the overall percentage.
- The art and design National 5 percentage of overall candidates remains relatively stable at 3.20% this year (2023) and 3.25% last year (2022).
- The biggest fall in the percentage of the total number of GCSEs is in England (0.3%). Northern Ireland has also seen a fall of 0.2%. Wales is the most stable and despite seeing a fall in actual numbers, there has been a small percentage increase of 0.1%.
- Gender in all nations (not Scotland): Since 2022 when the GCSE art and design gender gap was 34.84 % male and 65.16% female, this year the percentage of male v female completions has slightly widened 33.99% (m) v 66.01% (f).
- Grades A / 7+ are close to but have not quite returned to pre-pandemic levels (2019). This year 24.2% achieved 7A or above. In 2019, 22.9% of candidates achieved the same grades. However, the difference between all subjects and art and design is smaller now than in 2019 (now there is a 5.1 percentage point difference between art and design compared to all subjects – in 2019 there was a 5.3 percentage point difference.
- Across regions in England, the picture is mixed for achievement: Counties that achieved 7/A+ are found mostly in the SE of England. Lower achieving counties are more dispersed across all regions.
- In England, the attainment gap between the independent and state sector has increased this year, to 81% percentage difference in grades 7/A+ awarded, from 79% in 2022. Across centre types for art and design, academies saw the biggest decrease in 7/A grades (-16.8%).
- The achievement gap between male and female candidates has very slightly closed this year (17.6 percentage points between male and female candidates achieving A/7 and above) compared to 2022 (when there was a 22.9 percentage point difference), but not compared to pre-pandemic in 2019 when there was a 15.6 percentage point difference.
- In Scotland, the number of male and female students achieving a National 5, grade A has reduced this year: 29.2% male and 46% female in 2023, compared to 22.5% male and 38.8% female in 2019. The gap between male and female achievement has also slightly closed this year. In 2019 this gap was 16.3%, 17.6% in 2022. Now there is a difference of 16.8 percentage points.
- GCSE numbers continue to fall across all arts subjects UK-wide. The fall for art and design is less than other subjects, with numbers still higher than 2019 but is a sharp decrease that follows a 2.1% decrease last year.
Michele Gregson, general secretary of NSEAD says:
‘Our subject is amidst the perfect storm: a cost-of-living crisis impacting on school funding; subject inequalities evidenced through the Ebacc; staff shortages in art and design worsening; and the failure of successive education secretaries to recognise the impact of Covid on a generation.
‘We know from data collected in the APPG #ArtNow report, that funding cuts have impacted on our subject; on school visits to galleries and museums which have in some centres now stopped; time studying art and design in some schools has been reduced in key stage 3 and there has been a reduction in the number of specialist art and design teachers. It isn’t any wonder that art and design entries have continued to decrease. And, the impact of policies continues to hit some learners more than others:the equity gap continues to widen. Whichever lens we look through, things are getting worse, not better.
‘However, given the backdrop of the last five years, every learner must be congratulated for their achievements, and every teacher for all these results. The resilience of young people, who have achieved so much during a time of so many challenges – is incredible. The pride we, and all our members, have for each, and every learner, grows and grows.’
DATA, evidence and Analysis
All arts subjects:
GCSE numbers continue to fall across all arts subjects UK-wide (data source JCQ)
|Number of entries|
|Art and design||195,928||205,657||198,302||-3.6|
Entries for all arts subjects have fallen. The fall for art and design is less than other arts subjects, with numbers still higher than 2019 but this follows a sharp decrease that of 2.1% between 2021-22.
Design and technology entries have seen a small increase this year, however, entries have declined by 12.9% since 2019.
National variations in participation (GCSE candidate completions)
Numbers of candidates are shown next to the art and design percentage of the total number of GCSE entries across all subjects – which is shown in brackets. Data source JCQ
|England||184,762 (3.4%)||191,852 (3.7%)||182,204 (3.6%)|
|Northern Ireland||3,590 (2.1%)||3,730 (2.3%)||3,854 (2.4%)|
|Wales||8886 (3.0%)||8,909 (2.9%)||8,963 (3.0%)|
In England art and design completions have seen the biggest fall (0.3%) in the percentage of art and design candidates at GCSE compared to all subjects. Northern Ireland has also seen a fall of 0.2%. Wales is the most stable and despite seeing a very small decrease in actual numbers, there has been a small percentage increase of 0.1% completions.
Achievement in art and design GCSE
All figures are cumulative percentages of A/7 or more GCSE grades. ‘All’ in this table refers to all UK art and design candidates (ages 15-17); ‘Difference’ refers to the percentage point difference in completion percentages between male (M) and female (F) candidate numbers for each year. Data source JCQ
|Nation||2023 Grade 7/A||2022 Grade 7/A||2019 Grade 7/A|
2023: 24.2% of art candidates achieved a 7A or above
For all GCSE subjects: 19.1 % (difference 5.1)
2022:28.4%of candidates achieved a 7A or above
For all GCSE subjects: 22.6% (difference 5.8)
2019:22.9%of candidates achieved a 7A or above
For all GCSE subjects: 17.6% (difference 5.3)
Grades A / 7 or above have fallen this year but have not returned to pre-pandemic levels (2019). This year 24.2% (2023) achieved 7/A or above. In 2019, 22.9% of candidates achieved the same grades. However, the difference between all subjects (grades A/7 and above) and art and design is smaller now than in 2019. Now there is a 5.1 percentage point difference between art and design compared to all subjects – in 2019 there was a 5.3 percentage point difference.
Gender, participation and achievement
Gender and Participation, UK
Data source JCQ. ‘All’ in this table refers to all young people ages 15-17 completing art and design GCSE; Figures in brackets refer to the percentage of art and design candidates in relation to all subjects. ‘Difference’ refers to the percentage point difference in completion percentages between male (M) and female (F) candidate numbers for each year.
|All genders||198,302 (3.4%)||205,657 (3.6%)||195,928 (3.5%)|
|M||67,398 (2.3%)||71,657 (2.5%)||65,411 (2.4%)|
|F||130,904 (4.5%)||134,000 (4.7%)||130,517 (4.7%)|
As noted above, participation in art and design GCSEs is falling. The percentage of art and design candidates compared to all subjects is this year 3.4 compared to 3.6 in 2022. Note: numbers appear to rise compared to 2019, but this reflects the increase in completions in all subjects which has seen a 6.2% growth.
In 2023 there are 2.3% male, 4.5% female completions
In 2022 there were 2.5% male, 4.7% female completions
In 2019 there were 2.4% male, 4.7% female completions
This year the percentage difference between male and completions has stayed the same at 2.2%. But, art and design according to JCQ data, is the seventh worse subject for the difference between male and female subject choices.
gender and achievement
In 2023 there has been a 17.6 percentage point difference between male and female 7A+ grades.
In 2022 there was 22.9 percentage point difference between male and female 7A+ grades
in 2019 there was a 15.6percentage point between male and female 7A+ grades.
In art and design the achievement gap between male and female candidates has very slightly closed this year (17.6 percentage points between M and F achieving A/7 and above) compared to 2022 (when there was a 22.9 percentage point difference), but not compared to pre-pandemic in 2019 when there was a 15.6 percentage point difference.
Nations, GCSE and gender
GCSE achievement art and design GCSE (grade 7 or above and A)
Source for all tables: JCQ 24 August 2023
|Nation and year (grade A/7 and above)||2023||2019|
In Northern Ireland, achievement of grade A and above is 32.2% compared to England where the percentage is 23.9% and Wales 26.7%. No nation has returned to 2019 level, albeit each nation has inched closer.
Scotland: Achievement in art and design National 5, 2023
Art and design
|Grade A||4,320 (42.0%)||4,480 (44.4%)||4,750 (47.3%)||3,250 (34.9%)|
2023 National 5 grade A Gender and achievement
|National 5 Grade A||Male||Female||Difference|
The number of male and female students achieving a grade A has reduced this year –29.2% male and 46% female (2023), compared to 22.5% male and 38.8% female in 2019. The gap between male and female achievement has also slightly closed this year. In 2019 the percentage point gap was 16.3%, 17.6% in 2022. Now there is a gap or difference is 16.8 percentage points.
|National 5 Grade A||Independent||Ed Authorities|
* According to SQA this data was not available: ‘The value is suppressed to protect against the risk of disclosure of personal information.’
The number of independent centres achieving National 5, grade A has increased since 2019. So also has the number of centres in education authorities achieving grade A. It is not possible to make useful comparisons however, as the data as a percentage change during the pandemic in independent centres is not shared freely.
Art and Design England only 7/A and above (Source: 2023)
% achieving grade 7/A
% decrease / increase 2022-2023
|Secondary Modern/high school||14.6||14.6||20.5||18.4||18.2||18.3||0.5%|
|All centre types combined||22.5||22.7||29.6||30.2||28.1||23.9||-14.9%|
|Maintained centres combined||21.2||22.4||28.7||30.0||28.2||24.2||-14.1%|
This year, Academies have seen the biggest reduction in the percentage of art and design GCSE grades awarded at 7/A, at -16.8% followed by selective and independent schools (-11.6% and -11% decrease on 2022), Secondary moderns have seen a small increase at 0.5%. Overall grades awarded in state sector settings, decreased by -14.1% this year. This means that the this year (2023) the percentage difference between state and private settings awarding grade 7/A has grown, at 81% – this is slightly more than the percentage difference in 2022 of 79%. However, the gap between achievement in the independent and state sectors, has reduced somewhat since 2019 when there was a percentage difference of 84.7%.
Overall, since 2018 the independent sector has seen an 8.8% increase in grades 7/A and above. Secondary Modern schools have increased by just 6.2% during that period. The gap in achievement between independent and state sector is growing.
Listed below are percentage of students achieving 7A and above in art and design GCSE.
As a benchmark in England: 23.9% of students achieve 7A or above (source: Ofqual)
Higher achieving – grades 7A and above
Greater London 27.6%
West Sussex 27%
North Yorkshire 26.3%
East Sussex 25.9%
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------Average for England 23.9%
East Riding of Yorkshire 21.7%
Tyne and Wear 21.7%
Greater Manchester 21.7%
West Yorkshire 21.3%
West Midlands 20.3%
South Yorkshire 20%
Isle of Wight 17.6%
Six of the ten counties achieving the highest number of grade 7/A are in the south region. Of the 10 counties achieving the lowest percentage of grade 7/A two are north region, four are midlands and four are south regions. Whilst the south has the greatest number of counties achieving above the average for England, those counties achieving below the average are more evenly distributed across regions. Hampshire and Bedfordshire have the lowest number of grades at 7/A (17.3) Rutland has the highest (46.7%).
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