The Class of 2022-23 Examination report for GCE and Highers

Most of the young people receiving examination results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland today, and last week in Scotland were one term into GCSE and Scottish National courses when the pandemic hit and their schools closed. We know that this was particularly disruptive for practical subjects that need access to studio space, materials and equipment not available at home. The impact of the disruption to learning has not been evenly distributed. Ofqual are determined that grades in England should return to 2019 levels, whilst regulators in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland are taking a more lenient approach.

The results that these young people achieve today could never fully reflect their hard work, resilience and determination – their experience is unique, but we hope you and your students have achieved the grades you hoped were possible.

In 2022 NSEAD reported on a grade uplift in art and design GCE results. Ahead of results day this year the DfE confirmed that the numbers of candidates achieving all grades in England would be lower than in 2022. The DfE have explained why here. See also, information for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Here, NSEAD has summarised what we know so far – the subject-specific national picture and regional trends; changes in the gender achievement and participation gap; grade uplifts and lowering. We are unable to report on VTQs as insufficient subject level data is available.


Art and design GCE entries 

All figures are drawn from Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) data published 17 August. Figures in brackets indicate the percentage of the total cohort. Figures are provisional until October 2023.

A Level

Candidate numbers

All subjects have increased by 2.2% (from 848,910 (2022) to 867,658 (2023)). According to ONS population estimates, the 18-year-old population increased by 0.5 % for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland combined. Entries from this age group account for 92.6% of UK A level entries. 

There has been a 2.8 % decrease in GCE art and design (all UK candidate) completions this year. 

2023 :43,464

2022: 44,690 

2019: 42,307

There has been an even greater decrease in Design and Technology; completions have decreased by 6.7% (from 11,404 (2022) to 10,639 (2023)).



All subjects have seen a 25.3% decrease in A/A* grades (from 36.4% to 27.2%). There has been a 19% decrease in the percentage of A/A* grades awarded for art and design GCE:

A/A* All subjects combined:

2023: 27.2%

2022: 36.4%

2019: 25.4%

A/A* art and design subjects:

2023: 31.2%

2022: 38.7%

2019: 27.8%

This represents a 29% decrease in A* grades (from 18.6% to 13.1%) and a 9% decrease in A grades (from 20.1% to 17.9%)

This indicates that art and design has seen a lower decrease than all subjects combined. 

The percentage of A/A* grades awarded is still above the 2019 level across all subjects, and is higher for art and design. 

The gap between A/A* grades in 2019 and 2023 for all subjects is 1.8%

The gap between A/A* grades in 2019 and 2023 for art and design is 3.4%

In Design and Technology there has been a 41% decrease in the percentage of A/A* grades awarded (from 30.8% (2022) to 17.9% (2023)). This brings A/A* grades closer to 2019 levels (16.3%)


A* and C grades, All subjects, A level (art and design in brackets and bold) 2019-23

A* 2019: 7.7% (12.2%) 2022: 14.6% (18.6%) 2023: 2.9% (13.1%)

C 2019: 25.8% (24.4%)  2022: 21.5% (20.1%) 2023: 24.3% (22.7%)

C or above: 2019: 75.9% (84.7%)  2022: 82.6% (90.4%) 2023:76% (85.1%)


Art and design has continued this year to award more A* grades and C or higher than other subjects combined. 

The percentage point difference between A* grades awarded in all subjects combined compared to art and design has grown – in 2022 there was a 2.4 percentage point difference, this year it is 4.0 percentage points. 

The same can be said for C grades: In 2022, the percentage point difference between all subjects combined and art and design was 4.6 percentage points, this year it is 7.8 percentage points. 


AS Level

Art and Design has seen a 4.3% increase in candidate numbers (from 4,837 2022) to 5,045(2023)). This compares with a decrease of 4.2 % across all subjects (from 135,397(2022) to 141,096 (2023)): This follows a 13.6% decrease in Art and Design candidate numbers last year. 


National and Regional changes

Numbers sat, in England, N Ireland and Wales, years (2022-23). These can be viewed here.

Country    2022  – 2023   +/-  change in percentage points

United Kingdom overall (not inc Scotland): -2.7% 


Breakdown by country:

England: 41,737 – 40,594 –2.7 %

N Ireland:803: - 864   + 7.5%

Wales: 1796 -1677:  -6.6%


Wales has overall seen the largest decrease this year, Northern Ireland has increased numbers.


GCE summary

The completions in art and design GCE have fallen at ‘A’ level, but increased for ‘AS’ level–. The increase in ‘AS’ level completions is the first rise after a six year trend of sharp decrease in candidate numbers. The decrease in ‘A’ level entries in England is the greatest fall in percentage entries since 2013. (source Ofqual).

Grade uplifts and lowering

Across all subjects the percentage of grades at C and below have increased, and the percentage of grades at B, A and A* has decreased, bringing grades overall close to 2019 pre-pandemic levels. In Art and Design subjects, the gap is wider, with the number of A and B grades being the area of greatest variance from the subject average, where a greater percentage of candidates continue to be awarded those grades in 2023 than 2019, compared to other subjects.

Centre type and achievement of A/A*

This year, 52% of candidates in Independent schools received an A/A* grade in Art and Design. This compares to an average percentage of 28.4% across all other centre types (a 59% difference). This compares to 62.4% in 2022 for independent schools, and the maintained sector. The gap between the independent and maintained sector has reduced by 0.3%.

The gap between independent schools and maintained centres across all subjects this year is 60.4% (59.7% (2022)).

The gap has reduced slightly, but it has not returned to pre-pandemic levels.


The Gender Gap in art and Design

Gender and participation

A level outcomes in England (source Ofqual)

Candidate numbers, art and design subjects

 All candidatesmalefemale










This year 5.1% of all subject entries were in art and design subjects. This compares with 5% in 2022, and 5.6% in 2019.

10,215 art and design candidates (2.8% of all subject entries for males) were identified as male; in 2022 this was 3.1% - a percentage point decrease of -0.3%.

30,380 (7.1% of all subject entries for females) were identified as female; in 2022 this was 7% – a percentage point increase of 0.1%. 

The number of boys taking Art and Design compared to other subjects has fallen, whilst the number of girls has risen slightly.


The gender split for art and design subjects


Gender and participation

This year 25.1% of art and design entries were identified as male, in 2022 this was 26%, in 2019 it was 25.9%

Boys are still more likely than girls to take other subjects, and the gender gap in art and design has increased. 


Gender and achievement of A/A* 

 All candidatesmalefemale












This year there was a percentage difference of 36%  between male and female candidates performance at A/A*,with girls achieving a much higher percentage of the top grades than boys (2021: 32% 2019: 31.8%). The gap has widened again this year in favour of girls. The attainment gap is much higher in art and design than across other subjects, where there is a 1.1% difference in favour of girls.


Scottish Higher and Advanced Higher

Data published by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) (8 August 2023) show that National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher pass rates have fallen from last year, but at a slightly lower rate than in England.

Advanced Higher candidate numbers have risen by 3.6% (690 (2023); 6,650 (2022), whilst entries across all subjects combined have fallen. Higher candidate numbers have risen by 3.5% (5,890 (2023); 5,690 (2022)) with entries across all subjects also rising. The percentage of A grades have been awarded for Art and Design Advanced Higher has seen a small decrease from 33.7% to 33%. Art and Design Higher has seen a bigger decrease from 24.9% to 19%. 

The gender participation and achievement gap has increased. 21% of entries were identified as male, a 1% percentage decrease from 2022, at 20%. 

The percentage of A grades achieved by candidates identified as male this year was 19% compared to 24.9% in 2022



We are concerned to see the decrease in candidate numbers for A level.Although entries are higher than in 2019, the -2.7% drop this year compared to last, is alarming. Numbers are falling, despite the fact that the student population and entries across all other subjects have increased.Based on the fall in GCSE numbers last year, and the sharp decrease in provisional entries this year, we can expect the numbers of students taking our subject at A level to fall further in the next two years.This is not the case in Scotland, where the number of students taking Advanced Highers has actually increased even though uptake across all other subjects has fallen. The gender and participation gap (i.e. the difference between the number of male and female candidates) continues to grow after a small but positive shift last year. Both participation and attainment of boys has decreased in England and Scotland. This is disappointing.

This year with a higher number of candidates, for fewer university places, with grade boundaries raised, there has been concern that this will impact on students from less advantaged backgrounds. The gap between the independent and maintained sector remains. In 2023 we see a picture of reduced opportunity and growing inequity. 

Michele Gregson, General Secretary of NSEAD says: 

‘There is much speculation about whether we are now through the challenges of the pandemic. The UK Government say that everything is back to normal and that the disruption is behind us. These results show that this is far from the case. Inequality is becoming baked into our education system. Nothing less than a radical overhaul of a dysfunctional system can deliver the education fit for purpose. Government ministers should be alarmed that the numbers opting to study art and design are falling and that opportunities and student choice are being reduced. Ours is a subject that students have valued – it is consistently in the top ten subject choices. This fall in entires MUST be a wake-up call. Art and design students are highly motivated by a subject that offers a very unique learning experience, something that I believe is reflected in the number of top grades awarded. To hear a Secretary of State for Education today devalue the achievements of our incredible young people, by declaring that nobody will be interested in their A level results in ten years time, was sickening. We call upon our politicians to join us and celebrate all that has been achieved and attained. As always. we applaud every student and teacher. Your hard work and achievements DO matter.'