GCSE statistics 2021

In 2021, over 4.8 million 16-year-olds entered into the GCSE exams in England. We unpacked the statistics to find out how they got on.

You might think fondly of your time as a student, but we’re sure you haven’t forgotten about the stress before big exams. At the end of secondary school education, 16-year-olds in the UK take their GCSE exams. In 2020, over 5.2 million tests were made. We unpacked the statistics to get the lowdown on GCSE exams and results.

Quick overview

  • 4.8 million GCSE exam entries were made by 16-year-olds in the UK in 2021 and 5.2 million tests were made in total in 2020.
  • In 2020, there are 4,188 secondary schools in the UK, down from 4,190 in 2019.
  • 50% of government education spending was on secondary schools in 2020/2021.
  • The government will spend a minimum of £3,750 per pupil for primary schools and £5,000 per pupil for secondary schools.
  • The most popular modern language was French, with 124,043 pupils taking the GCSE in French. Spanish came in second with 103,992 tests made.
  • 77% of students passed their GCSEs (grade 4/C or above) in 2021, compared to 67% in 2019.
  • 28.5% of students achieved a grade 7/A or above in 2021 up from 25.9% in 2020.

Number of schools in the UK

In 2020, there are over 32,770 schools in the UK, 4,188 of which are secondary schools. There are significantly more primary schools in the UK, with 20,832 open in 2020, which is close to five times the number of secondary schools.

Since last year, 674 new nurseries have opened in the UK. It’s the only kind of school that has increased this year. In total, there are 8 less primary schools, 2 less secondary schools and 33 less “other” types of schools (independent schools, special schools and pupil referral units).

Explore the graphic and table below to see the total number of schools by type in both 2019 and 2020.

Type of school Number of schools 2019 Number of schools 2020
Nurseries 3,040 3,714
Primary 20,840 20,832
Secondary 4,190 4,188
Other 4,050 4,017

Expenditure on schools in the UK

Over the past 20 years (2000/2001-2019/2020), the amount of public sector spending on education has almost doubled (1.9x). And since 2015/2016, expidenture on the UK school system has risen by almost 9%.

The total spending in 2019/2020 was £92.4 million, with 50% of this being spent on secondary education. That is 47% more than the budget for pre-primary and primary education, and 10 times more than the spend on tertiary education.

Type of school 2015/2016 2016/2017 2017/2018 2018/2019 2019/2020
Pre-primary and primary education £31,203,000 £31,045,000 £30,634,000 £30,566,000 £31,670,000
Secondary education £38,972,000 £38,928,000 £40,971,000 £43,089,000 £46,555,000
Post-secondary non-tertiary education £508,000 £594,000 £581,000 £485,000 £586,000
Tertiary education £6,164,000 £6,066,000 £5,419,000 £4,621,000 £4,373,000
Education not definable by level £632,000 £808,000 £908,000 £803,000 £950,000
Subsidiary services to education £3,504,000 £3,393,000 £3,385,000 £3,646,000 £3,870,000
R&D education £1,573,000 £1,703,000 £1,815,000 £2,259,000 £2,324,000
Education n.e.c. £2,358,000 £2,369,000 £2,344,000 £2,582,000 £2,068,000
Total £84,914,000 £84,906,000 £86,057,000 £88,051,000 £92,396,000

GCSE results

In 2020, over 5.2 million tests were made by 16-year-olds who took their GCSE exams in England. The most popular modern languages were French (124,043 tests), Spanish (103,992 tests) and German (40,688 tests). Out of these, the best results were seen by the pupils that chose German; 19.8% got a grade 8 or above. Of those studying Spanish, 19.2% got a grade 8 or above, and of those studying French, 17.4% got this grade.

The best performance overall was in the classical subjects, where 58.8% of pupils got a grade 8 or higher. The second best results were in other modern languages (excluding French, German and Spanish), where 52.1% got a grade 8 or higher. Also in the top 10 list, we can also find artistic subjects such as performing/expressive arts and drama, where 22.2% and 21.5% of the students respectively scored a grade 8 or higher.

Subject group Percentage of students with a grade 8 or higher
Classical subjects 58.80%
Other modern languages 52.10%
Other sciences 42.20%
Chemistry 33.50%
Biology 33.30%
Physics 33.20%
Music 29.10%
Economics 28.80%
Performing/expressive arts 22.20%
Drama 21.50%

GCSE pass percentage

In 2020, the number of students achieving a grade 7/A or above was around one in four (25.9%). This is higher than it was in earlier years; in 2019, 20.6% of students got 7/A or higher.

Over the last 12 years, fewer than 2% of students failed their GCSE exams, and in 2020, 99.6% of students achieved at least one grade 1/G or above – 1.3% more than the year before.

Year Grade 1/G and above Grade 4/C and above Grade 7/A and above
2008 98.40% 65.50% 20.60%
2009 98.60% 66.90% 21.50%
2010 98.70% 69.00% 22.60%
2011 98.80% 69.80% 23.30%
2012 99.00% 69.50% 22.30%
2013 98.80% 67.90% 21.20%
2014 98.50% 68.60% 21.10%
2015 98.60% 68.80% 21.00%
2016 98.40% 66.60% 20.30%
2017 98.50% 66.10% 19.80%
2018 98.40% 66.60% 20.30%
2019 98.30% 67.00% 20.60%
2020 99.60% 76.00% 25.90%


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