The proportion of GCSE entries in England awarded top grades has surged to a record high after a U-turn meant results could be based on teachers' estimated grades amid cancelled exams.
Hundreds of thousands of youngsters received their GCSE results on Thursday following major changes – but around 200,000 Btec pupils will not get their final results following a last-minute review of grades.
More than one in four (25.9%) GCSE entries in England scored one of the three top grades this year, up from just over a fifth (20.7%) last summer, figures from exams regulator Ofqual show.
The proportion receiving at least a 7 – the equivalent of an A grade – is a record high based on available data following the decision to award grades based on teachers' assessments, rather than an algorithm.
Figures from Ofqual show that 6.3% of entries in England were awarded a 9 – the highest grade under the new numerical grading system – this year.
More than three in four (76%) entries were awarded at least a 4 – which is broadly the equivalent of a C – in England, which is up 8.9 percentage points on last year when 67.1% achieved the grades.
It comes after GCSE and A-level students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were told they would now be awarded the higher of either their teachers' grade or the moderated grade following an outcry.
Last week, nearly two in five (39.1%) of the A-level grades submitted by schools and colleges in England – around 280,000 entries in total – were adjusted down after moderation.
But new Ofqual data shows that the proportion of A-level entries now receiving an A grade or higher has increased to a record high for England following the U-turn, with 38.1% awarded the top grades.
When this year's results were first released last week under the controversial moderation system, some 27.6% of entries achieved an A or above.
Exam boards had moderated the grades – using an algorithm from Ofqual – to ensure this year's results were not significantly higher than previously and the value of students' grades was not undermined.
Schools minister Nick Gibb apologised to students on Thursday morning for the "pain and the anxiety" they felt prior to this week's exam grading U-turn.
Traditional A*-G GCSE grades have been scrapped and replaced in England with a 9-1 system with 9 the highest result. A 4 is broadly equivalent to a C grade, and a 7 broadly equivalent to an A.
Students receiving GCSE results this summer will get numerical grades for all their subjects as all courses have now moved over to the new grading system.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), is expecting staff to have "challenging" conversations with GCSE students unhappy with results.
He said one sixth form college was threatened with a solicitor and had to deal with "abusive" parents" after "all hell broke loose" over the colleges' estimated grades for A-levels last week.
Speaking to the PA news agency on Wednesday ahead of GCSE results day, Mr Barton said: "That will be repeated tomorrow I guess. I think people are expecting difficult conversations.
"It will be around a misunderstanding of 'This is an individual teacher. She didn't like me. She has therefore marked me down.'"
Colleges are urgently calling for more funding from the Government to cope with a surge of pupils who will be able to meet entry requirements for sixth form colleges amid the algorithm U-turn.
Some colleges are already at maximum capacity and there is a limit to the number of pupils they can admit amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA) has said.
But hundreds of thousands of Btec students are still waiting for their final grades after the exam board told schools and colleges not to release the results to pupils on Thursday.
Btec grades were not included in the original U-turn, but on Wednesday – with just hours to go until results day – examiner Pearson said it would regrade Btecs to "address concerns about unfairness".
Mr Gibb said he is hopeful that students will get their Btec results next week.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said: "To those hundreds of thousands of young people receiving their GCSE grades and the A-level students receiving recalculated grades, I will say this to them, congratulations on what you have achieved.
"But also how sorry I am for the pain, the anxiety and the uncertainty that they will have suffered as a consequence of the grading issues we encountered last week."