IB, A level and GCSE results 2023: Pass rates fall, but still cause to celebrate

This summer’s exam results season was always going to be challenging for schools, students, parents and universities. Yet around the world, international and independent school students beat the odds to deliver exceptional results and outcomes that put the cohort firmly on the path to success in their future careers.

Tanglin Trust graduation parade

Tanglin Trust graduation parade


This article is taken from the Autumn 2023 issue of

Think Global People magazine

Click on the cover to access the digital edition.
View your copy of the Autumn 2023 issue of Think Global People magazine.

The combination of IB, A level and GCSE grades returning what the UK’s Department for Education called the “final step back to normal grading” after the pandemic, a full summer exams session, a demographic bulge, and some funding issues at UK universities squeezing available courses, had led some to call the Class of 2023 “the unluckiest cohort”.Across all post-16 qualifications, pass rates and global averages fell while the number of students sitting exams this year rose. Early July’s publication of International Baccalaureate Diploma (DP) results – including the IB Career-related (CP) and IB Bilingual Diplomas – presaged what was to come over the next eight weeks as Scottish National 5s and Highers, A levels and GCSE results were released to schools and students.

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IB schools around the world announce results

Almost 180,000 students – a 3.47% increase on last year – received their IB CP and DP results, which awards grades from 7 (the highest) to 1. The global average dipped to 4.84, with average points also down from 2022’s average of 31.98 to 30.24 in 2023. The global pass rate was 79.3%, slipping by six points from 2022. The IBO, the IB’s governing body, said, “This return to established distributions of awarded grades is aligned with university expectations and has been a phased process.”Nevertheless, students at IB schools had good reason to celebrate. A clear majority secured their first choice of university on results day and will continue their individual learning pathway with the confidence, experience and transferable skills and knowledge gained over their course of study.Among them are students from 2023 Relocate Award winner, The International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL). Here, 97% of students passed with an average score of 34 points. Three students received the perfect score of 45 points, placing them in the top one per cent of candidates globally.As Sally Robinson reported as the IB results came in, schools in Singapore traditionally perform strongly in the IB. This year was no exception. The 1,800 students at 26 international and local schools scored an average of 35.05 points, slightly lower than in previous years; 409 students received over 40 points.At Tanglin Trust, the average score was well above the global average at 38.3. Eleven students achieved 42 points or more with one student awarded the top mark of 45. “It was wonderful to note the very positive results this year,” said CEO Craig Considine.“The IB is a challenging but fulfilling qualification and each student has embraced their studies with enthusiasm and perseverance.”In the UK, 4,850 students took the IB diploma in 2023 with an average grade of 5.51, slightly below last year’s average of 5.75; the average points awarded was 34.67, again slightly down on last year’s average of 36.35. The UK pass rate was 94.7%, slipping by 2.8 points.TASIS, the American School in England celebrated a 97% pass rate and an average score of 34; 27 students were awarded the prestigious bilingual diploma. IB Coordinator Jessica Lee said, “We celebrate the fantastic graduating IB students. We are not only proud of their academic achievements, but their personal attributes as well. They leave us as strong learners, disciplined in their studies, and creative, analytical thinkers. Most importantly they are good and kind people.”

A level, GCSE/IGCSE and Scottish Higher results

A-level students showed comparable resilience and determination to shine and overcome both the significant challenges of their pandemic-disrupted education and examiners bringing pass rates closer to 2019. Jonathan Shaw, head of King’s Ely Senior, summed up the mood of headteachers as the 8am embargo for 2023’s summer A level results lifted on 17 August: “Results day is always approached with a little trepidation, but for this year’s cohort there was the additional pressure of sitting public exams for the first time, due to the cancellation of their GCSE exams in 2021. We are therefore particularly delighted with today’s results.”Overall, a fifth of King’s Ely’s A-Level results were A* grade, while almost half were A*-A and three-quarters grades A*-B. This meant that, with around 20% of students nationally missing their first-choice university offer as results were released and UCAS re-opened its systems that morning, almost every student at King’s Ely had secured a place at their first-choice institution.Highlighting the success of schools like King’s Ely as well as those in the state sector, the A level pass rate at grade C and above in England fell fastest of all the home nations’ examination boards to 75.4% this year – slightly below 2019’s figure of 75.5%. This year, 3,820 students passed three A levels with an A* compared to 2,875 in 2019; below 2021’s peak of 12,945 where grades were protected due to the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.In Wales, the number of A and A* grades accounted for 34% of all results, falling from 40.9% last year and 2021’s peak of 48.3%. The overall pass rate of 97.5% was slightly below 2019’s benchmark of 97.6%. Northern Ireland’s Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment (CCEA) also continued its journey to prepandemic grading. Here 37.5% of students achieved A-A* grades, with “results higher than pre-pandemic levels [and] lower than 2022”.Earlier in August, the Scottish Qualifications Authority noted its “further progress on the path back to normal awarding” after the pandemic: 78.8% of National 5 results were at A-C; 77.1% for Highers; and 79.8% for Advanced Highers.For GCSEs and IGCSEs – those awarded by Cambridge Assessment International  – the number of highest grades fell from last year but is still higher than 2019. A total of 22.4% of entries were awarded a grade 7 or above (equivalent to the old A*-A), down from 26.3% last year but up from 20.8% in 2019. Around 68% of students received a grade 4 or above, down from 73% last year.Again, reflecting the demographic bulge, GCSE entries from 16-year-olds increased by over 400,000 compared to 2019. Cambridge Assessment International also reported higher entry numbers; up 6% on 2022.

All-round education and alternative routes rise in importance

This year more than any other, schools and educators were also keen to highlight the all-round capability of students, acknowledging the wealth of extracurricular activities, internships and voluntary experience students participate in, as well as the quality of pastoral and careers guidance.At Clifton College, an international day and boarding school in Bristol, student Alex achieved eleven 9s and is now looking to studying in the school’s sixth form. He credited his teachers, particularly his English teacher, for helping to raise his grades in English from 6s and 7s to 9s in a short space of time, along with extra clinics and focused practice papers.Almost a quarter of Clifton College’s GCSE grades were 9s and 61% were 9-7. Some of the College’s 2023 A level cohort – which achieved 76% of A level grades at A*-B – are heading for preuniversity gap years internationally, including placements, to enhance their learning, wider experience and undergraduate studies. Alex, for example, achieved four A*s and will be studying engineering at Cambridge University after a gap year in Hamburg on an internship with the renewable energy company, RWE.The reporting for the first time ever of T level results played into this important message – frequently explored in Relocate Global’s International Education and Schools Fairs – that vocational (especially around STEM subjects) and interpersonal skills, as well as citizenship and global mindedness, are essential elements of all-round education today. As employers including professional services firms remove traditional barriers to entry, like minimum A level grades and degrees for those applying to entry-level training programmes, recognition of the importance of life experience and personal qualities, as well as academic outcomes, is gaining ground.Dan Hutchinson, vice president, HR, UK & Ireland at Schneider Electric summed up the value of considering all options for young people to learn, earn and gain in-demand skills – as well as for employers to diversify and build resilience into the business.“While many will still have their sights set on university, alternative career routes, like apprenticeships, shouldn’t be ruled out,” he said, adding that Schneider Electric has doubled the number of opportunities on its apprentice scheme this year. “Fostering both technical and interpersonal skills directly in the workforce, these can be invaluable – especially for those most affected by the pandemic’s educational disruptions. They are also crucial to shape much-needed talent to future-proof the workforce and support the government’s focus on greener jobs.“Businesses have a vital role to play in changing perceptions. This means investing more in relationships with education providers, starting with young school pupils, to increase understanding of the broad and valuable opportunities available. Students should be reassured that there are many options available to help them to thrive and more than one route to success.”

Read more international education and schools news from Sally Robinson in the Autumn issue of Think Global People magazine. Reserve your copy here.

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