Attainment gaps in 2022

In 2021, when exams were cancelled, we saw higher national results for GCSEs and A levels than before the pandemic. So, what has happened to attainment gaps in 2022?

In 2021, when exams were cancelled, we saw higher national results for GCSEs and A levels than before the pandemic, and varying impacts on attainment gaps.

As intended, in 2022, national results were higher than 2019 when exams were last sat, but lower than 2021 when teachers determined learners’ grades.

So, what has happened to attainment gaps in 2022?

What are attainment gaps?

Attainment gaps are the differences in the results achieved by different groups of learners. They are normally expressed in percentage points. For example, the gender attainment gap is calculated as the results achieved by females, minus the results achieved by males.

What did attainment gaps look like in 2021?

Compared to 2019, attainment gaps in 2021 were generally larger at A* and A*-A and narrower at grade C (in the context of higher national results overall).

What about 2022?

We returned to exams and standardised assessments in 2022.

Some may wonder whether, as we have returned to exams, we see attainment gaps in 2022 that look more like those in 2019 (when exams last took place)?

There are a number of reasons why attainment gaps in 2022 might look different to 2019:

  • Results in 2022 are higher than results in 2019 – when national results are different, you are likely to see changes in attainment gaps too
  • Different impacts on learning from the pandemic will have affected some groups of learners more than others
  • The exams in 2022 were adapted to support learners and recognise the loss of teaching and learning time – some learners might have performed better on adapted assessments than others
  • At subject level, attainment gaps can change if there is a substantial change in who enters a qualification in different years

What do we know already?

On results days we referenced JCQ data on the gender attainment gap in 2022 (when adapted exams were sat) and how this compared to previous years.

At A level, the gender attainment gap at A* and A*-A in 2022 was similar to 2019, when exams were last sat. At A*, males did slightly better than females in both 2019 and 2022 at these grades, whereas in 2021, when exams were cancelled, females did slightly better than males.

At GCSE, again the gender attainment gap at A*-A in 2022 was similar to 2019. But at grade C something slightly different happened. In 2021, as results increased overall, females continued to achieve better results than males, but the gap between them narrowed slightly. But in 2022 the gap narrowed slightly again, to 7.1 percentage points.

It is difficult to know for sure what has caused these changes, but it is interesting that the gender attainment gap at grade C in GCSEs did not move back towards what it had been in 2019 as we returned to exams in 2022. This difference at GCSE and A level could be related to learners taking some GCSEs early before the summer of year 11 which is not seen with most A levels.

When can I find out more?

We will be publishing official statistics on equalities in October that will describe what has happened with other attainment gaps in 2022. We are aiming to include analysis using the Welsh index of multiple deprivation (WIMD).

By Tom Anderson, Head of Research and Statistics