Louis Hodge, Associate Director at the Education Policy Institute, said: “The fall in GCSE results today was expected given Ofqual’s approach to returning grades to pre-pandemic levels. We have always been clear that there was no perfect solution to addressing the increases in grades that were seen under centre and teacher assessment, but the approach adopted was reasonable and pragmatic.

“Given the decision to return to 2019 grade distributions, the overall results do not tell us much about overall standards or the ongoing impact of the pandemic. However, results from the National Reference Test, which was sat by a sample of students, suggest that outcomes in maths remain below their pre-pandemic levels. This is consistent with our own research on the performance of younger pupils which showed greater learning loss in maths than in reading.

“The changes in grades this year have not been equal across subjects, as some increased more rapidly under centre and teacher assessed grades. The percentage of candidates receiving the top grades in subjects such as computing, music, and PE have fallen by around 10 percentage points compared with last year.

“Today’s results reveal persistent inequalities in GCSE outcomes with a growing gap between London and the rest of the country. In London, 28.4% of entries were awarded a grade 7 or above, in the north east it was only 17.6%.

“While the grades seen in today’s results represent a return to pre-pandemic times, the environment for schools remains challenging. The pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in pupil outcomes and its effects are still being felt, with the disadvantage gap at its widest in a decade and pupil absences remaining stubbornly high.”